Wednesday marks the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and we should celebrate the progress made over the last two decades in decreasing our country’s teen pregnancy rate. Despite our great strides, though, teen pregnancies in the United States remain higher than any other industrialized country, and the birth rate among Kansans ages 15 to 19 is above the national average.
We know that many factors influence a teen’s desire to have sex. Teens often say they “didn’t think it could happen to me,” when it comes to pregnancy. This rationale fits with a teenager’s brain development. The teenaged brain is maturing, but it is not completely developed. Adolescents tend to base their decisions on emotions rather than weighing possible risks.
Talking with your children about sex needs to be a continuous process. It becomes especially important during adolescence to make rules about dating and sex very clear. It is also important to supervise your teenager’s activities. Ask questions about their friends, friends’ parents, boyfriends or girlfriends, what they are doing after school and where they are hanging out. Make your family values clear and describe which activities do and do not align with those values.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is very clear that abstinence is the safest and only completely effective method of contraception. Even teenagers who are already sexually active should be encouraged to abstain from further sex. This is the only way to completely prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Teenagers should be encouraged by both their parents and their doctor to abstain until they are emotionally ready to handle the implications of sex. Teens should be encouraged to have the fewest number of partners in their lifetime as possible to keep them healthy and safe.
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Teenagers should feel like they can discuss sex with their parents or another trusted adult. They should also be aware that they can confidentially discuss sex, contraception and STI testing and treatment with their doctor.
For some teens, abstinence is not a realistic option. In this case, discuss different contraceptive options with your teen’s doctor. There are many safe options for teenage girls, including long-acting reversible contraception like implants and intrauterine devices. In addition to any hormonal contraception, teens should always use condoms. No hormonal contraception will protect them from STIs. Even condoms are not totally effective in preventing disease or pregnancy; with typical use, male condoms are only about 80 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
Should your daughter have unprotected sex, you can call your doctor right away to discuss emergency contraception options. Last summer, the FDA approved one type of emergency contraception as safe for over the counter sale without age restriction. There are other options available by prescription that insurance may cover. A prescription option may be more effective for teens who weigh more than 160 pounds. Emergency contraception should not be used as regular contraception because it is not as effective as other birth control types.
Contraception does not replace the need to have frank discussions with your teens about respecting themselves and respecting their partners. This includes discussing abstinence, safe sex and what to do if they feel they have been victimized sexually. Your doctor can help you with these sometimes difficult conversations.
Studies show that half of high school seniors have already had sex. Teens who are involved in extracurricular activities and have goals past high school are less likely to engage in early sex. Organized sports have great emotional and physical health benefits. So get your kids involved and get involved with their activities. Keep the lines of communication open and feel free to involve your child’s physician in conversations related to sexual activity.
Check out this website for great information and tips for parents and teens alike: http://thenationalcampaign.org/.