Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Teenage pregnancy is a concern to parents whether or not they are single parents. However, single parents often hear that their children are at a higher risk for teenage pregnancy, along with other teenage problems such as alcohol and drug abuse. Many studies are quick to look at the contributing factors to teen pregnancy, but few are designed to examine the factors which contribute to its decline. This is the area to which more attention should be paid.
In a report released in 2001, Keeping the Faith: The Role of Religion and Faith Communities in Preventing Teen Pregnancy, teenagers indicated that their morals, values and/or religious beliefs were more of an impact on their decision whether or not to have sex than their worries about STDs or their fear of pregnancy. Additionally, a study in 2006 conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that 47% of teens state that parents are the main influence in their decision about sexual activity. This is an awesome responsibility and one that many parents simply do not take seriously.
Sharing your religious views, your morals and values with your teen is very important. Our children look to us as role models and - believe it or not - they listen to what we say and watch what we do. It is very important for us to share our beliefs and to give them the opportunity to see us put our beliefs into action. Attending religious services, involving your family in relgious study or having a family prayer/devotional time helps you teach your children your beliefs and allows them the space to question their own beliefs in a safe environment where you can guide their exploration. Most importantly, in additional to sharing your own beliefs with your children, it is important that you explain the "WHYs". Remember when your children were four to six years old and you thought the questions would never stop? Well, they haven't. Only as our children grow older, they voice those questions in their own minds and many of them never are spoken. Explain the reasons behind your beliefs and encourage their questions. It is the best way for them to learn.
Parents are always quick to let their teenagers know that they are supporters of abstinence and that they want their teens to place a hold on sex until they are either out of high school or until they are married. While abstinence is definitely the right choice for parents to stress to their teens – and the right choice for teens to make – we are remiss to “teach” abstinence-only sex education. [And let me add that sex education, while part of the curriculum in public schools, is NOT the sole responsibility of our education system. This is, first and foremost, a parental responsibility.] The main reason abstinence-only sex education fails our teens is because it does not teach them what to do when they make the decision to have sex. And whether we like it or not, eventually they will make that decision.
There is nothing more important than keeping the lines of communication open between you and your teen. If they feel that they can come to you with anything, then they are more likely to listen to your ideas and opinions on sex, pregnancy prevention and many other topics. With a parental success record like the one reported in 2006 (above), why wouldn’t we want to keep those lines open and in use? For the first time since 1991, teen pregnancy in the United States is on the rise. Many who read the report actually thought, “Oh, its only 3%; what’s the worry?” However, that 3% makes the United States the country with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the world. Additionally, teen pregnancies cost taxpayers approximately $9.1 billion dollars each year. How? Obvious reasons such as lower birth weight babies because teen mothers do not receive proper medical care, mothers who are less likely to finish school and are more likely to be stuck in low-paying jobs, which delivers them on the doorstep of poverty. Also, teen pregnancies are generally dealt with solely by the mother because of the attitudes we teach our young men towards their teen girlfriends and the possibilities and repercussions of teen pregnancy. Finally, only about 2% of teen mothers who deliver even consider adoption for their children.
If morals, values and religious beliefs, coupled with the opinions of their parents, are the major influences on the decisions our teens make about sex, then it is obvious where we need to focus. Talk to your teens; give them ALL the information – not just part of it. Encourage abstinence and stress that it is your preference, but prepare them for the possibility of another decision. Ask questions – learn how your teens feel about responsibility and healthy relationships. Most of all, LISTEN. There is hope for American’s teens and it lies within their parents.