May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month
Teen pregnancy is not something everyone thinks about. However, as a sexuality educator, this is one topic that is forefront on my mind. When people think of teen pregnancy, what do they think of? Do they think of irresponsible teenagers, having sex indiscriminately while they’re at parties? Do they think of a teenager who is having a relationship with an older person? The truth of the matter is that teenagers are bright and responsible individuals until they’re not, just like the rest of us. However, a teen brain is not the same as an adult brain. A teen's brain won't finish developing until they're 25-30 years old. Unfortunately, this also means that they will make some mistakes, some much graver than others. It is important to understand that some of the responsibility falls on us, as adults, as the society that young people are growing up in. Yes, we are also responsible for the rise (and fall) of teen pregnancy rates.
On television, teenagers are often depicted as leading adult lives with childlike qualities. The consensus that we sometimes have about teenagers is that they’re irresponsible and need to be told what to do (and not do) because otherwise, they'll mess up their lives. We can be really hard on teenagers, and have very high and at the same time, very low expectations. Teenagers are people who need kindness, love and information- good, factual, reliable information. They are people who are learning not only about the world but about themselves and what capabilities they have.
Teenagers’ brains are learning and absorbing everything that they see around them, but what about the things that aren’t available to them? I’m talking about comprehensive sexuality education. The drop of teenage pregnancy rates is attributed to increased access to and information about effective methods of birth control, as well as having comprehensive sexuality education. We are moving towards making comprehensive sex-ed a norm, but we are not moving fast enough. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia mandate both sex and HIV education; and 13 states require that the information presented in sex and HIV education classes be medically accurate." It seems ludicrous that only 13 states care whether the information presented to young people is medically accurate.
Yes, strides are being made toward giving young people good information, however, anecdotally, I think it’s also related to the fact that as a society we are starting to understand that teenagers process information differently and we are finding effective ways to deliver information to them. We are having conversations about gender and sexuality with young people while fostering a supportive environment for them to ask questions. We are listening to what young people have to say about feminism and social justice, and making them a part of decision-making. These things are not happening at a large scale, yet, but they are happening and young people are yearning for the opportunity to be treated with respect and kindness.
As a sexuality educator, one of the most important and challenging things that I am tasked with is talking to adults about talking to young people about sexuality, this includes talking to parents. Parents are often worried about delivering information too soon, or saying too much, not enough, or saying the wrong thing and those are fair concerns. All the parents that I’ve talked to want to have conversations with their teens. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy says that “ parents—not peers, not partners, not popular culture—most influence their decisions about relationships and sex.” There have not been any parents that I've talked to as an educator, that have been adamantly against having conversations with their kids, the concern is mostly about how to do that and what to say. In many cases, parents never had conversations with their own parents about sexuality, and just like that- the topic of sex and sexuality becomes a topic that we don't talk about and it becomes a generational problem. Parents are the primary educators of their children. Parents and family are where young people get their values and belief systems from. The challenge is that some parents may not have access to the information that they need to have these critical conversations.
In any event, it is up to us to continue advocating for the right of teens to have information that will help them make informed decisions. If we support young people and help them find good information and sharpen their critical thinking skills, then we are working towards a future in which we can all grow. I'm glad teen pregnancy rates are dropping, I also know that there's more work that we can do.
Sites to check out:
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
Sex, Etc For Teens, By Teens
Advocates For Youth
By Lorena C. Morgan, UConn MSW Intern at 12 May 2016, 15:13 PM
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