Town Hall Offers Straight Talk About Teen Pregnancy

Each year in the United States more than 750,000 teenagers become pregnant. Approximately 82% of these pregnancies are unintended. An estimated nine million teens and young adults acquire a sexually transmitted infection (STI) each year. Over thirty concerned parents and educators met Thursday evening at CLEAN offices in Winchester to learn more about how to keep communication lines open with teenagers when talking about difficult subjects like sex and to hear ways to help young people make healthy decisions regarding sexual activity that prevent unintended pregnancy and STIs.

Sex educator and Lord Fairfax Community College adjunct professor Shellie M. Seelove explained to the gathering that it is very important to take the initiative in talking to teens about sex early so that the foundation for positive decision making is in place long before a child is presented with the choice to engage in sexual activity or not.

“I suggest that parents be direct with their teens by telling them ‘Sexuality is an important part of human life and I’m going to make an effort to talk with you about it’” Seelove said. “The response may be negative but you need to be persistent and push through it. It’s OK for things to be a little uncomfortable sometimes.”

Shellie Seelove is a sex educator and adjunct professor at Lord Fairfax Community College - Photo Edward Leonard

The audience, mostly parents of teenagers, offered a nervous laugh at Seelove’s suggestion revealing just how uncomfortable many people are in talk about sexuality, especially between members of different generations. But Seelove told parents that if they aren’t talking to their teens about sex then their teens are getting their information from other sources, often other teens. The consequence of not discussing sexuality with teens, Seelove said, is that the child receives incorrect information that can be, at the least, detrimental but in other cases disastrous.

“As a clinician I talk to adolescent girls who describe being repeatedly raped by their boyfriends. When I ask why the girl allowed the behavior to continue I often hear ‘I wanted to be a good girlfriend and good girlfriends don’t say ‘no’ to their boyfriends” Seelove said. “Parents would not have given this message to a child. The mis-information probably came from other teens.”

In the Winchester area, teen pregnancy rates peaked in 2007 with a rate of 62 per 1,000 females. While recent statistics are beginning to show improvement, local pregnancy rates continue to be higher than the state and national rates. In addition, statistical analysis dispels the public perception that teen pregnancy is limited to specific races or ethnicities.

Pregnancy rates for Clarke County teens were not presented at the town hall meeting.

Teen pregnancy prevention research indicates that young people who are inspired and motivated during childhood, and have opportunities to build self-esteem, establish healthy life skills, and set meaningful goals are significantly more likely to delay pregnancy and pursue their dreams through higher education. With this behavior model in mind, concerned citizens and community leaders in Winchester formed a task force, ultimately christened L8R Baby, which determined that young adults in our area lack adequate access to comprehensive reproductive health and life skills education and have limited access to free or low cost contraceptive choices, including long acting contraceptive methods.

L8R Baby’s mission is to prevent teen pregnancy by empowering young people through education, advocacy, and health care as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. L8R Baby says that it is working to create a community where all young people have the resources and support needed to successfully prevent teen pregnancy. Seelove says that regular and frequent discussions between parents and teens is the key to keeping channels of communication open and offered approaches for parents to consider.

For example, Seelove recommended that parents use a “sex positive” approach when talking to teens because messages from the media tell teens that sex is always positive yet messages from educators and parents can often comes across with very negative connotations causing kids to reject the message. Seelove advised that parents resist the urge to send their message in negative terms.

“I’m not suggesting ‘60’s free love here” Seelove said. “But I am suggesting a balance when parents talk to teens. And it is important to tell them about the consequences of sexual activity too.”

Seelove went on to describe the importance of autonomy for teens but also their continued need for adult guidance. “Even though teens are physically mature there is still a child inside the adult body who often needs parental help and advice” Seelove said.

Teen pregnancy rates for Frederick County and Winchester, Va - Source L8r Baby, Inc.

Seelove said that it is important for families to have “un-programmed” time available between parents and teens so that spontaneous conversations can be initiated by either the parent or child. Seelove also advised parents to try and remember to remain an advocate for their child rather than an adversary.

“Pick your battles wisely” Seelove said. “Try to avoid power struggles and remember that you are on the same team.”

An important component for engaging with teens on sexuality is parental education. Seelove suggests that parents use the Internet, newspapers and other sources of current events as topics for initiating discussions with their children. Taking a class, reading and sharing books on sexuality and online resources are excellent sources for accomplishing this Seelove said. She recommended several websites that both parents and teens can use including “Go Ask Alice”, a question and answer site on sexual topics administered by Columbia University, Scarleteen.com, which offers articles, referrals and interactive services related to sexuality, The National Campaign and L8RBaby.com.

Participants in the town hall discussion voiced strong support for reducing the “taboo” nature of discussing teen sex in local communities. Many of those present said that it is important to reach out not only to your own child, but other teens in the community as well whos parents may not be there to support their child.

“We have to be concerned with all children at risk and find ways to get the message to them” said Maria DeLalla, president of L8r Baby. “Please don’t leave here tonight just feeling more comfortable about talking to your own kids. We have to reach out to the larger majority because we have such a high rate of teen pregnancies in this area.”

Statistics bear out DeLalla’s concern. In 2007, Virginia’s teen pregnancy rate was 27.2 per 1000 females ages 10-19. Winchester ranked 7th out of 136 localities. In 2008, Winchester’s rate was 46.8 per 1000 females vs. 26.3 for the Commonwealth.

L8R Baby is working in partnership with several local organizations and private citizens to provide teens with essential resources for making healthy choices and help empower positive goals for their future. L8R Baby plans for 2010-2011 include:

–                   Educational programs for parents and youth on reproductive health, tips for effective communication with parents, pregnancy prevention, and healthy relationships.

–                   Educational programs for identified at-risk youth on reproductive health, tips for effective communication with parents, pregnancy prevention, and healthy relationships at Timbrook House, a Winchester Police Department effort to provide a structured environment for at-risk youth to focus more effectively on developing positive life skills.

–                   Volunteer activities supporting an education and exercise program for pre-teen girls, Girls on the Run of Winchester, an international positive youth development program which combines an interactive curriculum and running to inspire self-respect and healthy lifestyles in pre-teen girls.

–                   A referral link to the Teen/Youth Clinic at the Winchester-Frederick Health Department, offering youth-friendly services including education and counseling regarding abstinence, contraceptive methods, and STIs.

Thursday’s town hall meeting was held at the CLEAN (Community and Law Enforcement Against Narcotics) facilities in Winchester. CLEAN assists in the development and implementation of community-wide programs directed at reducing the demand for and availability of alcohol tobacco and other drugs, and other adolescent problem behaviors of violence, delinquency, teen pregnancy, school dropout, and supporting healthy activities and programs for families and children. Tara Nelson, an educator with CLEAN, told the meeting participants that adults owe it to teens to be direct about the risks and facts with teen sex.

“We’ve got to be honest with kids even as uncomfortable as it can be sometimes” Nelson said. “As parents, your kids believe you the most. If you’ve told them nothing then they’re going to listen to what their friends tell them.”

Jessica Edwards, an OB/GYN physician in Winchester who attended the meeting, echoed the message presented by Seelove throughout the evening. “Even if you don’t think that your child is having sex you still need to be talking to them about sex.”

Several people in the audience voiced dismay with curriculum inadequacies in local school systems for addressing sexual education. One person said “Schools are really limited by input from parents. For school administrators it’s often about avoiding complaints from small, but vocal, minorities in the community. There are so many different value sets out there that it’s hard to teach in a way that pleases everyone, so instead, many schools choose to teach nothing instead.”

Concerned parents attend town hall meeting to discuss teen pregnancy - Photo Edward Leonard

L8R Baby, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, is funded through donations and fund raisers. The group is currently competing for a Pepsi Refresh health category grant of $25,000. People interested in supporting L8R Baby may access http://www.refresheverything.com and “vote” for L8R Baby. (Note: L8R Baby asks that supporters not vote for any other project categories becaues other projects are in competition with L8R Baby for the grant.)

Dr. John Werner, Clarke County High School Principal, has recently joined the CLEAN board of directors and was in the audience at Thursday’s meeting. Warner said that he’d like to encourage similar town hall meetings at Clarke County High School to help the community become more aware of issues facing teens.

“The message tonight was that kids are going to get information about drugs, sex and other things from somewhere” Warner said. “Knowledge is power. There’s a silent majority out there that wants to be more aware about these kinds of issues.”

L8R Baby accepts tax deductible donations. For more information visit http://www.18rbaby.com or donations can be mailed to L8R Baby, 413 Fairmont Avenue, Winchester, VA 22601.

Comments

  1. Travis Goodwin says:

    This division hasn’t had a comprehensive Family Life Education curriculum for nearly 9 years now. Here’s hoping that changes.

    • Tammy Lanham says:

      Agreed. Clarke County students are really missing out on crucial life lessons (many of which are mandated by Virginia and taught all across the nation as a result of studies indicating increased obesity, teen pregnancy and substance abuse)….. as a parent I know full well a teacher with grade-level appropriate training (in health/wellness/teen rape/sexually transmitted diseases/nutrition/anti-bullying techniques/effects of drugs and alcohol/basic human reproduction/physical changes during adolescent growth and development etc.)would be able to communicate more to my teenagers in an objective classroom environment than I can in a few “talks” one on one.

      Good article, good idea to have a local parent meeting, and hopefully also good time to make a change in the middle and high school curriculums here in Clarke County….

      • Jeremy Carter says:

        This may ‘sound’ really stupid……but there’s a show on MTV called “16 and Pregnant”. I think that this should be shown in classrooms of freshman. Let them see what the struggles of being a parent are….and especially the struggles at the young age of 16.

        Could potentially put it into perspective for ‘some’ young adults. Some won’t be reached….but even if 1 can take something from it…it’s a start.

        • I completely agree Jeremy.

          Lots of people think this is a horrible show for teenagers to watch, but I have to think that those who say that truly have never seen the show. If they had they would realize that it actually shows how hard being a teenage parent is, in all aspects of life. For the most part these kids are miserable and I think teenagers would be more likely to take this reality show seriously than some educational video filmed in the 70s.

  2. Alecia Schulz says:

    As a graduate of Clarke County Public Schools, I strongly believe that sexual education needs to be taught in our school system. As Mr. Carter said, the show ’16 and Pregnant’ is about real life girls dealing with these issues.
    The rate of teenage pregnancy has been increasing tremendously over the years and I believe we are doing children a disservice by not teaching this. It’s a part of life and the more educated teens are, the more likely they will be responsible about it.

    • Naked Truth says:

      Just like other things that should be taught at home. You can teach all you want about it at school. But if it is not practiced and encouraged at home it will do NO GOOD! Save you time and tax dollars.

      • Fly on the wall says:

        Sure…because some parents in this community have done such a bang-up job teachin their kids to say no to alcohol and drugs, too, right? How many teen girls have or will become young mothers in the past 5 years? How many young girls get caught up in the “If you don’t put out, I’ll just find someone who will” spin? How many don’t have the knowledge to help them take a stand and say “No”? How many are in relationships with someone who doesn’t think that “No means no”? How many mistakenly think that oral sex is not really sex (even though it can transmit STDs just as easily)? How many do not have parents who care enough to have those conversations or teach those lessons?

        Does education eliminate all teen pregnancies or incidences of STDs? No. But, does that mean the community, and its schools, should sit on its hands and do nothing? Absolutely not.

      • Carl M Chapman says:

        Naked Truth,
        You are absolutely right that these are things that should be taught at home, but… how many people don’t. As a community, we should support the teaching of Sexual Education and make sure ALL of the students are reached. Not only this, I’m willing to bet that most parents don’t know as much as somebody who is trained to teach this sort of curriculum. Even if young teens are taught these things in the home, isn’t it more valuable if it is enforced by the school system. In my opinion MANDATORY Sexual Education classes will help students far more in life that physical, algebra, and so forth. I don’t understand how this could ever be a waste of tax dollars.

      • Clarke Graduate says:

        Obviously the “at-home” talks aren’t happening. It takes one lap around the high school to see a handful of pregnant teens waddling to class. I know Clarke County is obsessed with “saving their time and tax dollars” but someone needs to stick their neck out here. In school sex-ed lectures need to happen, these kids obviously aren’t learning on their own.

        • Oh come on. Are you saying that 15+ year olds do not know the consequences of unprotected sex? Give me a break.

          • Carl M Chapman says:

            Obviously not.

          • Well Jim, if you have sex standing up, or its a certain day of the month or you drink a Mt. Dew before hand then you won’t get pregnant. Didn’t you know this?

            You and I know thats all a bunch of stupid myths but how do we expect a 15 year old to know if we don’t tell them. They know the consquences but they think there are sure fire ways to avoid pregnancy. Someone needs to tell them it’s a bunch of lies…

      • Agreed. Apparently the schools are understaffed with obsolete facilities etc. Let’s teach academics. Parents, wake up, and wake your kids up!

      • I disagree. Some of the kids coming from the homes you just described need JUST THIS THING to help teach them right from wrong and give them answers they desire. I totally agree these life lessons should be taught at home and in theory shouldn’t have to be taught in schools. But the reality is that this doesn’t always happen.

        • Okay, so we should have classes about for example, how robbing a bank is wrong, and do not murder people etc. I totally disagree. Some things you just can’t teach, and if these kids don’t get it at this age, then why is it the taxpayers responsibilty to hold their hands through life?

          • Travis Goodwin says:

            It’s not about holding anyone’s hand, [redacted]. Stop spoutin off like some libertarian malcontent railing about the “taxpayers” and how much things cost. It’s the community’s job to educate its children about life, and all of the things they need to know to survive. And…for the record…kids ARE taught that robbing a bank is wrong, as is murder, in a sweet little course called “Civics” and in the character education that forms the foundation of so many things K-12.

            A lot of parents aren’t having the talks with their kids for a host of reasons, leaving kids to “figure things out” on their own. Thus, we have had 15 pregnancies @ the high school in the past couple of years, not counting how ever many cases of STDs. It’s a state curriculum, and it will be taught in an age-appropriate manner.

          • Robbing a bank is illegal, murdering people is illegal. Not only is having a child not illegal, it’s actually something that is generally celebrated. Apples and oranges.

            I guess since some things can’t be taught then parents might as well never talk to their kids about it. If it can be taught at home than it can be taught in schools, sometimes even more effectively.

            And if you want to talk about taxpayer money…what do you think it more expensive? Sex ed in schools or the government supporting all these unwed teenager mothers who cannot feed, cloth or care for their child on there own?

          • So the teens who are pregnant should just get an abortion? That’s legal.

          • Fly on the wall says:

            Wow, dude…your crass snarkiness is really rather petty and shallow.

          • Jim, did you post on the wrong thread? No one here is talking about abortion… You had a realistic arguement before, now you’re just being ridiculous.