Well, well. It now appears that the Gloucester High School story that rocked the nation these past days is just a hoax. In case you missed the news 17 young teens at the small Massachusetts high school allegedly made a pact to get pregnant and then help raise each other’s babies. It turns out that the pact was just another urban legend. But don’t feel too relieved just yet. Pact or not pact, there’s a point we can’t overlook. Those 17 unwed pregnant girls are not alone.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that for the first time in 15 years teen pregnancy is back on the rise for girls 15 to 17. Each day more than 2000 of our American daughters becomes pregnant. And one in four girls aged 15 to19 has a sexually transmitted infection.
Whether you are raising your children in Portland, Manhattan, Sacramento, Iowa, or Gloucester, the statistics about kids are the same. That’s why it’s crucial that we learn from this story. Two thirds of our kids have had sex before they graduate from high school.
Here are seven parenting secrets that research shows will help reduce those odds:
1. Start the sex talk early. And I do mean EARLY—like by the age of two or three. Relax, I’m not suggesting you talk about the birds and the bees, but just use correct names for body parts such as “penis” and “vagina.” Here’s why: Many parents say they don’t feel comfortable having the big crucial sex talk with their older kids, and you must have that talk. So, get comfortable by using those terms with your toddler now and those tougher topics will be far easier later. (Besides, why call a penis a cute little term like “pee-pee” when we don’t say “toe-toe” or “elbowy?”)
2. Stress your values! Most kids these days understand the dynamics of sex just fine thank you. (Ask them—they’ll give you a few pointers!) What our kids are missing are the lessons about values and strong sexual feelings. So talk, talk and talk again about your family values so your child has something to believe in. Give your son or daughter the reason to wait and why it’s okay to say, ‘no.’ Stress the aspect of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. in relationships and that sex comes with big responsibilities.
3. Be a “hands-on” parent. Research conclusively shows the best way to reduce risky teen behavior is by staying involved and being a “hands on” parent. Monitor their coming and goings. Set curfews. Know their friends and befriend their pals. Stress your expectations on what the media they consume. And do not be afraid to say no!
4. Monitor your home. A little word to the wise: Teens are most likely to have their first sexual encounter in your home. Be there when your teen has friends over, and most especially so if your teen brings home her dating partner. Get to know her boyfriend. And make that bedroom off limits to entertaining!
5. Counter the Hollywood glamorization of pregnancy. From Nickelodeon star, Jamie Lynn Spears, to magazines covered with picture perfect young celebrity moms touting babes, to the blockbuster movies Juno and Knocked Up. This is the year Hollywood glamorized teen pregnancy. What kids miss is the exhaustion, croup, sleepless nights, and financial hardships of parenting. They also never see that those celebs have at their disposal an entourage of nannies, cooks, personal managers and endless bank accounts. Point out those mixed Hollywood messages and add in the missing pieces of responsibility and sacrifice that comes with parenthood.
6. Keep talking. One talk isn’t going to do it. So continue talking and listening and talking. Find ways to bring up conversations about sex. Throw in $100 a month for diapers. $125 for baby formula. $175 a month for new baby clothes. Or the $197,7000 it cost to raise a kid these days. And if that doesn’t do it—ask a mother to lend her baby to your child to watch for a weekend. Instant birth control!
7. Give your child a sense of future. Get your child involved in his school. Tell him to study! From an early age, talk to your child about growing up, leaving home and working. Stress your expectations for their education. The truth is the more involved a child is in school the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors.
REALITY CHECK: When’s the last time you talked the serious side of sex with your or daughter? Make a pact right now to do so!