Articles for Parents

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    What Parents Need to Know About Preventing Teen Pregnancy

    Teens want to know what adults think, even if they don't act like it.

    • Adults are powerful figures in the lives of young people and hold the key to preventing teen pregnancy.

    • An MTV poll found teens ranked their parents as their #1 heroes.

    Forget about "The Talk." It is an 18-year conversation about love, relationships, values and sex. Start early and let your kids know that you are an "askable parent."

    • Teens tell us their parents tend to give them information too late and in too vague a way.

    • They can get clinical information from school or books (and they already know more than you think), but what they really seek are parents who are comfortable talking with them about relationships, how to handle peer pressure to have sex, how to say "no" without hurting feelings, and other such issues.

    Don't let your daughter get involved with a much older guy.

    • Teen girls who date much older guys are more likely to report later that they didn't really want to have sex in the first place and are less likely to use birth control/contraception.

    • Among mothers aged 15-17, about one in four has a partner who is at least five years older.

    • Older boys and men can lead younger girls into very risky situations and relationships.

    • Seventy percent of teenage pregnancies are caused by guys over the age of 20.

    Sometimes, all it takes for teens not to have sex is not to have the opportunity.

    • Many teens say that if they had something to do after school that's fun and interesting, they are less likely to experiment with sex, drinking, and other risky activities.

    • If parents can't be home with kids after school, they need to make sure their kids are busy doing something constructive and engaging.

    Parents need to make girls feel valued and important. You can't give a girl self-esteem, but you can give her the opportunity to develop it -- encourage her involvement in sports, volunteering, drama classes or other activities that make her feel talented and confident.

    • Girls involved in sports are half as likely to get pregnant as non-athletes, regardless of how much sex education they have. They are more likely to delay sex until they are older, and to use protection when they do so.

    • Another study shows that girls who are active volunteers throughout their high school years have half the teen pregnancy rates of the average for their peers.

    • If you give a girl something positive to say "yes" to, she'll be much more likely to say "no, not yet" to sex and pregnancy.

    • Remember, condoms do not protect the heart.

    Talk to sons as well as daughters. The nearly 1,000,000 teen girls who got pregnant each year don't do it alone.

    • Boys need to know that teen pregnancy happens to them, too. We need to talk to boys - not just girls - about consequences, responsibility, sex, love and values. Surveys show that boys want to do the right thing.

    Learn the facts yourself. It is a scary world out there. Sexually transmitted diseases have multiplied at a frightening rate in the last 30 years.

    • We have gone from two to 38 identifiable Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s), and some of these – including AIDS, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and Herpes – are incurable.

    • HPV causes more than 90 percent of all invasive cervical cancers, and condoms do not prevent HPV. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 45 million Americans have HPV.

    • In addition, chlamydia is rampant and is frequently symptomless. Chlamydia is a leading cause of infertility in later life.

    Adapted from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Tips for Parents

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    10 Tips for Parents: Teen Pregnancy Prevention

    The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has reviewed research about parental influences on children's sexual behavior and talked to many experts in the field, as well as to teens and parents themselves. From these sources, it is clear that there is much parents and adults can do to reduce the risk of children becoming pregnant before they've grown up.

    Presented here as "10 tips," many of these lessons will seem familiar because they articulate what parents already know from experience - like the importance of maintaining strong, close relationships with children and teens, setting clear expectations for them and communicating honestly and often with them about important matters.

    Finally, although these tips are for parents, they can be used by adults more generally in their relationships with teenagers.

    So, what to do?

    1.  Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes.

    Communicating with your children about sex, love and relationships is often more successful when you are certain in your own mind about these issues. To help clarify your attitudes and values, think about the following kinds of questions:

    • What do you really think about school-aged teenagers being sexually active - perhaps even becoming parents?
    • Who is responsible for setting sexual limits in a relationship and how is that done realistically?
    • Were you sexually active as a teenager and how do you feel about that now?
    • Were you sexually active before you were married?
    • What do such reflections lead you to say to your own children about these issues?
    • What do you think about encouraging teenagers to abstain from sex?
    • How do you feel about teenagers using contraceptives?

    2.  Talk with your children early and often about sex, and be specific.

    Children have lots of questions about sex, and they often say that the source they'd most like to go to for answers is their parents. Start the conversation, and make sure that it is honest, open and respectful. If you can't think of how to start the discussion, consider using situations shown on television or in the movies as conversation starters. Tell them candidly and confidently what you think and why you take these positions; if you're not sure about some issues, tell them that, too. Be sure to have a two-way conversation, not a one-way lecture. Ask them what they think and what they know so you can correct misconceptions. Ask what, if anything, worries them.

    Age-appropriate conversations about relationships and intimacy should begin early in a child's life and continue through adolescence. Resist the idea that there should be just one conversation about all this - you know - "the talk." The truth is that parents and children should be talking about sex and love all along. This applies to sons and daughters and to mothers and fathers, incidentally. All children need a lot of communication, guidance and information about these issues, even if they sometimes don't appear to be interested in what you have to say. And if you have regular conversations, you won't worry so much about making a mistake or saying something not quite right, because you'll always be able to talk again.

    Many inexpensive books and videos are available to help with any detailed information you might need, but don't let your lack of technical information make you shy. Children need as much help in understanding the meaning of sex as they do in understanding how all the body parts work. Tell them about love and sex, and what the difference is. And remember to talk about the reasons that children find sex interesting and enticing; discussing only the "downside" of unplanned pregnancy and disease misses many of the issues on teenagers' minds.

    Here are the kinds of questions children say they want to discuss:

    • How do I know if I'm in love?
    • Will sex bring me closer to my girlfriend/boyfriend?How will I know when I'm ready to have sex?
    • Should I wait until marriage?
    • Will having sex make me popular?
    • Will it make me more grown-up and open up more adult activities for me?
    • Can I tell my boyfriend/girlfriend that I don't want to have sex without losing him/her or hurting his feelings?
    • How do I manage pressure from my boyfriend/girlfriend to have sex?
    • How does contraception work?
    • Are some methods better than others? Are they safe?
    • Can you get pregnant the first time?

    3.  In addition to being an askable parent, be a parent with a point of view. Tell your children what you think. Don't be reluctant to say, for example:

    • I think kids in high school are too young to have sex, especially given today's risk.
    • Our family religion says that sex should be an expression of love within marriage.
    • Finding yourself in a sexually-charged situation is not unusual; you need to think about how you'll handle it in advance. Have a plan. Will you say "no?" Will you use contraception? How will you negotiate all this?
    • It's okay to think about sex and to feel sexual desire. Everybody does! But it's not okay to get pregnant /get somebody pregnant as a teenagers.
    • One of the many reasons I'm concerned about teens drinking is that it often leads to sex.
    • (For boys) Having a baby doesn't make you a man. Being able to wait and acting responsibly does.
    • (For girls) You don't have to have sex to keep a boyfriend. If sex is the price of a close relationship, find someone else.

    By the way, research clearly shows that talking with your children about sex does not encourage them to become sexually active. And remember that your own behavior should match your words. The "do as I say, not as I do" approach is bound to lose with children and teenagers, who are careful and constant observers of the adults in their lives.

    Supervise and monitor your children and adolescents. Establish rules, curfews, and standards of expected behavior, preferably through an open process of family discussion and respectful communication. If your children get out of school at 3 p.m. and you don't get home from work until 6 p.m., who is responsible for making certain that your children are not only safe during those hours, but also are engaged in useful activities? Where are they when they go out with friends? Are there adults around who are in charge? Supervising and monitoring your child's whereabouts doesn't make you a nag; it makes you a parent.

    4.  Know your children's friends and their families.

    Friends have a strong influence on each other, so help your children and teenagers become friends with people whose families share your values. Some parents of teens even arrange to meet with the parents of their children's friends to establish common rules and expectations. It is easier to enforce a curfew that all your child's friends share rather than one that makes him or her different - even if your views don't match those of other parents. Hold fast to your convictions. Welcome your children's friends into your home and talk to them openly.

    5.  Discourage early, frequent and steady dating.

    Group activities among young people are fine and often fun, but allowing teens to begin steady, one-on-one dating before age 16 can lead to trouble. Let your child know about strong feelings about this throughout childhood - don't wait until your young teen proposes a plan that differs from your preferences in this area; otherwise, he or she will think you just don't like the particular person or invitation.

    6.  Take a strong stand against your daughter dating a boy significantly older than she is.

    And don't allow your son to develop an intense relationship with girls much younger than he is. Older guys can seem glamorous to a young girl; sometimes they even have money and a car to boot! But the risk of matters getting out of hand increases when the guy is much older than the girl is. Try setting a limit of no more than a two- (or at the most, three-) year age difference. The power differences between younger girls and older boys or men can lead girls into risky situations, including unwanted sex with no protection.

    7.  Help your teenagers to have options for the future that are more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood.

    The chances that your children will delay sex, pregnancy and parenthood are significantly increased if their futures appear bright. This means helping them set meaningful goals for the future, talking to them about what it takes to make future plans come true, and helping them reach their goals. Tell them for example, that if they want to be a teacher, they will need to stay in school in order to earn various degrees and pass certain exams. It also means teaching them to use free time in a constructive way, such as setting aside certain times to complete homework assignments. Explain how becoming pregnant - or causing pregnancy - can derail the best of plans; for example, childcare expenses can make it almost impossible to afford college. Community service, in particular, not only teaches job skills, but can also put teens in touch with a wide variety of committed and caring adults.

    8.  Let children know that you value education highly.

    Encourage your children to take school seriously and set high expectations about their school performance. School failure is often the first sign of trouble that can end in teenage parenthood. Be very attentive to your children's progress in school and intervene early if things aren't going well. Keep track of your children's grades and discuss them together. Meet with teachers and principals, guidance counselors and coaches. Limit the number of hours your teenager gives to part-time jobs (20 hours per week should be the maximum) so that there is enough time and energy left to focus on school. Know about homework assignments and support your child in getting them done. Volunteer at the school, if possible. Schools want more parental involvement and will often try to accommodate your work schedule, if asked.

    9.  Know what your children are watching, reading and listening to.

    The media (television, radio, movies, music videos, magazines, and the Internet) are chock full of material sending the wrong messages. Sex rarely has meaning, unplanned pregnancy seldom happens, and few people having sex ever seem to be married or even especially committed to anyone. Is this consistent with your expectations and values? If not, it is important to talk with your children about what the media portray and what you think about it. If certain programs or movies offend you say so, and explain why. Be "media literate" - think about what you and your family are watching and reading. Encourage your children to think critically: ask them what they think about the programs they watch and the music they listen to.

    You can always turn the TV off, cancel subscriptions and place certain movies off limits. You will probably not be able to fully control what children see and hear, but you can certainly make your views known and control your own home environment.

    10. These first nine tips for helping your children avoid teen pregnancy work best when they occur as part of strong, close relationships with your children that are built from early age.

    Strive for a relationship that is warm in tone, firm in discipline and rich in communication, and one that emphasizes mutual trust and respect. There is no single way to create such relationships, but the following habits of the heart can help:

    • Express love and affection clearly and often. Hug your children, and tell them how much they mean to you. Praise specific accomplishments, but remember that expressions of affection should be offered freely, not just for a particular achievement.
    • Listen carefully to what your children say and pay thoughtful attention to what they do.
    • Spend time with your children engaged in activities that suit their ages and interests, not just yours. Shared experiences build a "bank account" of affection and trust that forms the basis for future communication with them about specific topics, including sexual behavior.
    • Be supportive and be interested in what interests them. Attend their sports events; learn about their hobbies; be enthusiastic about their achievements, even the little ones; ask them questions that show you care and want to know what is going on in their lives.
    • Be courteous and respectful to your children and avoid hurtful teasing or ridicule. For example, don't compare your teenager with other family members (i.e., why can't you be like your older sister?). Show that you expect courtesy and respect in return.
    • Help them build self-esteem by mastering skills; remember, self-esteem is earned, not given, and one of the best ways to earn it is by doing something well.
    • Try to have meals together as a family as often as possible, and use the time for conversation, not confrontation.

    Finally, it's never too late to improve a relationship with your child or teenager. Don't underestimate the great need that children feel at all ages for a close relationship with their parents and for their parents' guidance, approval and support.

    Taken from theNational Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

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    The Impact of Teen Childbearing

    In 1999 in Hamilton County, there were 240 teens between the age of 10 and 17 who became pregnant.

    Compare that to 98 teens in the same age range in 2013, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. It's a 59 percent decrease in unwed teen pregnancies. Even in the 18-to 19-year-old age group, pregnancies have dropped from 470 in 1999 to 244 in 2013, a stunning 48 percent decrease.

    This is good news... sort of.

    The people of Hamilton County are definitely doing some things right in order to see this kind of decrease. However, we cannot forget the 321 children who were born to teen moms in 2013. The breakdown is: 227 18-19-year-olds, 88 15-17-year-olds and six 10-14 year olds.

    Research from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies indicates that teen childbearing in the U.S. costs taxpayers — federal, state and local — at least $9.4 billion annually.

    Consider these statistics:

    • 66 percent of pregnant teens report histories of dating abuse.

    • Only 30 percent of teen fathers pay child support.

    • Teen mothers are nearly twice as likely to forego prenatal care during the first trimester.

    • Only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before the age of 18 graduate from high school.

    • Daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

    • One in three teens becomes pregnant by age 20.

    If a teen mother does not earn a high school diploma or GED, the child will likely spend 64 percent of his or her life in poverty. In fact, a child born to a teen mother who has not finished high school and is not married is nine times more likely to be poor than a child born to a married adult who has finished high school.

    Research consistently shows that teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of critical social issues — poverty and income, overall child well-being, responsible fatherhood, health issues, education, child welfare and risky behaviors. As previously noted, there are substantial public costs associated with adolescent childbearing. If more children in this country were born to parents who are ready and able to care for them, we would see a significant reduction in a host of social problems afflicting children in the United States.

    So what can parents do to help prevent teen pregnancy?

    First, talk about the facts of life. Communicate your values and convictions about love, sex, commitment and marriage.

    If you are having trouble deciding what to talk about, here are some questions teens have said they want to discuss.

    • "How do I know if I'm in love?"

    • "Will sex bring me closer to my girlfriend/boyfriend?"

    • "How will I know when I'm ready to have sex? Should I wait until marriage?"

    • "Will having sex make me popular? Will it make me more grown-up and open up more adult activities to me?"

    • "How do I tell my boyfriend that I don't want to have sex without losing him or hurting his feelings?"

    • "How do I manage pressure from my girlfriend to have sex?"

    • "Can you get pregnant the first time?"

    The good news is more parents are boldly talking about sex and healthy relationships with their teens. As a community, it is critical that we support them in their efforts to raise young people who are well on their way to achieving a successful future and marriage.

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    Fewer Teens are Having Sex

    There are some very positive trends going on among teens. That's according to the CDC 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which examines youth and their engagement in risky behaviors,

    The survey sampled public and private schools with students in at least one of the grades ninth through 12th in the 50 states (4,138 in Tennessee) and the District of Columbia.

    The results indicate:

    • Fewer teens are drinking.
    • Teen smoking is at its lowest level since 1991.
    • Less teens are involved in physical fighting.
    • The percentage of teens that have never had sex has dramatically increased.

    Since 1991, the percentage of currently sexually active high school students has decreased from 38 percent to 30 percent in 2015. Even more interesting is the drop in the number of teens who have ever had sex, falling from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015. That means nearly six in 10 teens are choosing to wait for sex – the highest percentage to date. This news follows a press release from the CDC in April stating that teen birth rates are now at an all-time low.

    More teens in every high school grade are waiting for sex in greater numbers than ever before.

    While this is great news concerning current high school students, a whole new target audience is approaching the high school years. It is imperative that they learn healthy relationship skills and understand the significance of the success sequence: Finish high school at a minimum, get a job and have children after getting married. Research indicates that the success sequence dramatically reduces the chance that youth will live in poverty as adults.

    What can you do to help your teen?

    • Model a healthy relationship.
    • Start an ongoing conversation, preferably before they enter middle school. Your tween may be naïve, but the people around him/her are not. You are the best one to educate and influence them when it comes to relationships.
    • Don’t assume your teen will just figure it out when it comes to dating. The world is a complicated place with confusing messages.
    • Talk about how to identify healthy and unhealthy behaviors. For example, healthy relationships don’t involve physical or emotional abuse. Healthy relationships empower people versus exerting control over them. Healthy relationships encourage individuals to grow and be themselves. When you see examples of healthy relationships, point them out.
    • Monitor involvement on social media. Some people in cyberspace are counting on your tween/teen to think they are invincible.
    • Have an open door policy when it comes to answering questions about relationships. If you don’t know the answer, investigate it together. Make sure your child knows there are no dumb questions.
    • Educate your child about how to protect themselves from sexual assault. This includes the danger of excessive drinking, why going to places in groups is a good thing, and why they should not accept a drink from anyone, even a friend.

    The trend indicated by the CDC report is great news. It means fewer teens are spending time worrying about pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. It also means they can actually focus on their future while enjoying their teen years.

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    Teen Sex and the Brain

    There is an ongoing debate about whether teen sex is really harmful over time.

    Drs. Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush, authors of Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, contend that casual sex during the teen and young adult years affects the ability to bond later in life.

    Imagine you adhere a strip of clear shipping tape to your sweater to remove lint. The first time you pull it off, it grabs fuzz and some hair. It still has some stickiness so you continue to use it, but eventually, the tape loses its stickiness.

    Similarly, research indicates that sexual activity and having multiple partners hinders the ability to develop healthy, mature and long-lasting relationships. 

    What does teen sex have to do with brain development? Probably more than you realize.

    • The prefrontal cortex is still developing until the mid-twenties. This part of the brain is responsible for setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies and controlling impulses. It also initiates appropriate and moral behavior.

    • During the teen years, sexual activity triggers chemical reactions within the brain that help shape it.

    • This brain transformation has a huge physical and psychological impact on all things sexual. A person’s decision-making ability, coming from the highest centers of the brain, can lead to the most rewarding sexual behavior. That is, unless premature and unwise sexual behavior during adolescence damages the brain's formation for healthy decision-making.

    Additionally, the authors sound the alarm concerning an apparent relationship between teen sexual activity and depression. Studies indicate that sexually-active teens are three times are more likely to experience depression than their abstinent peers. 

    Sexually-active girls were three times more likely to have attempted suicide, and sexually-active boys were seven times more likely to have attempted suicide than their virgin friends.

    If you want to help your teen's brain develop in a healthy way, McIlhaney and Bush suggest that you recognize the critical role parents play.

    • Surveys consistently show that teens primarily look to their parents' advice about sex. Structure, guidance, and discipline from caring adults can positively mold the adolescent brain.

    • Teens need parental support as they take healthy risks, like learning to drive, trying out for sports or going off to college. Activities like these help young people separate from their parents and grow as individuals.

    • If parents or other caring adults don't guide their teens, their poor choices can negatively impact for their future.

    Although it may be complicated and uncomfortable, you can prepare your child for some very real threats to their well-being. These threats include sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and the emotional baggage of seeking to bond with multiple sex partners. Taking these issues seriously and keeping the lines of communication open are essential to healthy relationships in the future.