May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Teen pregnancy and births in the U.S. have reached historic lows, so it might be tempting for parents, healthcare providers, community leaders and others to think, “problem solved!” and move on to another really important teen issue. But here is the reality: Approximately 625,000 teen pregnancies still occur annually in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The term “teen pregnancy” doesn’t begin to convey the cascade of public health and social problems that occur when teen girls get pregnant. Statistics from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy show that teen pregnancy is a leading cause of high school dropout among girls. And, only about 2 percent of teen girls will obtain a college degree by the age of 30. Teen pregnancy is also a leading cause of poverty. About 25 percent of teen mothers receive public assistance within three years of their children’s births, often relegating themselves and their children to a life of unfulfilled potential.
In 1997, I co-founded and chaired a Teen Pregnancy and STD Prevention Program at my hospital in Los Angeles. A key goal of this program and my continued work in this area is to educate parents and to facilitate their ability to guide their teens towards healthy, smart, and values-based decisions about sexual health. After all, parents should be the primary sex educators of their children, but too often they report feeling unprepared, or even clumsy, about this very important parenting task. The following Pearls of Wisdom are excerpts from, Before It’s Too Late: What Parents Need to Know About Teen Pregnancy and STD Prevention.
- Be an empowered parent—education is the key. Staying abreast of current information about teen pregnancy and prevention issues will help you feel more confident in talking to your teen.
- Keep talking—and please avoid that one time, awkward moment, called “The Talk.” You’ll want to have many conversations with your child about the wide spectrum issues related to sexual health. Some may be more formal, but teens prefer more impromptu, casual, and brief talks.
- Emphasize your values and morals—if you don’t, the vacuum will be filled with the highly sexualized information abundant in today’s media.
- Partner with health care providers—you don’t have to go it alone. Choose a health care provider for your child who is tween/teen friendly, has an interest in promoting sexual health, and is really willing to listen.
Sheila Overton, M.D., FACOG, is an OB/GYN at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center and author of “Before It’s Too Late: What Parents Need to Know About Teen Pregnancy and STD Prevention,” which is available at www.droverton.org . Follow her on Twitter @DrOverton.