While fewer teens are getting pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013, 273,000 infants were born to mothers ages 15-19).
Here are the two best ways to prevent teen pregnancy:
1. Parental involvement and support. Like I said, most parents don't want to think about their children as sexual beings. But the reality is that they are. Even if they stay abstinent, which is clearly what we'd all prefer, they still have sexual feelings--and they will be dealing with peer pressure, first romantic relationships and all those other teen social dynamics. As parents, we need to recognize this. By the end of high school, two-thirds of youth have had sex (overall, about half of all ninth-12th graders report having sex at least once). We think that talking about it encourages it--but it turns out that whether we talk about it or not, those feelings and situations are still there.
That's why talking is so necessary. We can give them strategies to get out of difficult situations. We can help build their self-esteem and help them understand that their body is precious and that they shouldn't do anything they don't feel good about. We can also be sure that they have the factual information they need to prevent infections and pregnancy. Which leads me to the other best way to prevent pregnancy...
2. Long-acting reversible contraception. That's a medical term that refers to contraception that doesn't require any maintenance, any remembering, any carrying anything with you or ducking into a bathroom. At the same time, it's reversible--so when girls get older (much older, hopefully) and become interested in getting pregnant, they can.
There are two kinds. One is hormonal implants that get put under the skin, and the other gets put inside the uterus--an IUD (intrauterine device). Both are really effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy, and both are safe (there are certain medical conditions that might make them less safe, but we screen for and discuss those when we talk to girls about contraception). This is the contraception that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends for young women.
For lots of parents, the idea of something like this might feel like a non-starter. They don't want their daughters having sex at all--why would they consider something that is put in their body and works for 3-5 years? But here's the really important point: What we want most of all for our daughters is a healthy and happy future. I think that if we are honest and realistic, that ranks higher than virginity until marriage, as much as we might want that too.
And since the odds of them staying a virgin until marriage are low, we should do what we can so that the odds of them getting pregnant are low too.
So think about it. Talk to your doctor and your daughter's doctor (and let your daughter talk to her doctor alone, too). These are hard conversations to have--but they can make all the difference.
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