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Parents can play a key role in reducing teen pregnancy

By Dr. Sheila Overton, M.D.

LAST UPDATED: 8:10 p.m. HST, Apr 26, 2011

May 4 is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Day. While recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that teen births in the United States have reached an all-time low, this data should not tempt parents, educators, health care providers and community leaders to let down their guard.

Approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies occur annually in the U.S., and roughly 1 in 3 teen girls still gets pregnant before age 20.

Hawaii ranks 16th highest in teen pregnancy rates for 15- to 19-year-olds in the U.S., according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

The term “teen pregnancy” doesn’t begin to convey the cascade of public health and social problems that occur when teen girls get pregnant. Teen pregnancy is the leading cause of girls dropping out of high school. And, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, about 25 percent of teen mothers go on welfare within three years of their child’s birth, often relegating themselves and their children to a life of poverty.

A host of health problems associated with teen pregnancy, including a higher rate of pre-term birth and low-birth-weight babies for teen moms, accompanies these social ills.

But there is good news. Parents strongly influence their teens and can play a key role in reducing teen pregnancy by helping their children make healthy, responsible and values-based decisions about sex.

This list gives you some ideas about what you might wish to say to your teen. The key is to think about what you want to get across about relationships, dating and sex.

8 Things to Say to Your Teen

1. “Respect yourself.” A teen who has a high level of respect for herself/himself is much less likely to be swayed by peer pressure and much more likely to avoid risky behaviors.

2. “Be responsible.” While teens are not adults, they should be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions.

3. “This is what I believe about teens and sex.” It’s important to clarify your values about teen dating, relationships and sex before you can impart those values to your child.

4. “Make your own, independent decisions.” When I was growing up, the admonition was, “Don’t follow your friends, they may lead you off a cliff.”

5. “Don’t rely on friends for advice about sex.” Friends are good for many things, but providing accurate information about sex isn’t one of them.

6. “What you see on TV and in movies seldom reflects real life.” Teens probably don’t see couples talking about birth control, and they definitely don’t see them using it before a sex scene on TV or in a movie. In real life this could lead to an unintended pregnancy and perhaps to a sexually transmitted disease.

7. “Being a teen parent is really hard.” Practically every teen parent I have interacted with has regretted the loss of freedom after having a child, the inability to hang out with friends and the difficulties involved in being a teen parent.

8. “There’s a difference between infatuation, love and sex.” An infatuated teen might think that sex is OK since she/he is “in love.” Unfortunately, once the infatuation ends, the teen might regret having acted based on “feeling in love.”

Dr. Sheila Overton, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with a former practice in Kailua. These tips are excerpted from her book “Before It’s Too Late: What Parents Need to Know About Teen Pregnancy and STD Prevention,” available at Bookends in Kailua or www.dr­ The monthly “Health Scene” column features information and advice from Hawaii health care professionals.

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