Hi! If you’re new around here, let me bring you up to speed. For the past while, we’ve been delving into the issue of teen pregnancy. A couple weeks ago we talked about how we can support our teens if they're dealing with an unintended pregnancy, and last week we looked at pregnancy options. This week I’ll round things out with a few parenting tips that may help your teen significantly reduce their risk of pregnancy in the first place. Here’s the video. But if print media is how you roll, stay right here and read on.
Before I start doling out the advice, just a reminder that nothing we do as parents and caregivers can guarantee that our teenagers won’t ever have to deal with a pregnancy. We can promote certain choices around sexual activity and sexual health, but ultimately we can’t make decisions about how and when to have sex for our kids.
As much as I’d love to offer a foolproof method for avoiding teen pregnancies, that would make me less of a sex educator and more of a wizard. I can tell you what years of research have revealed about effective strategies for reducing rates of adolescent pregnancy. So let’s dive in!
Comprehensive sex education
Time and again, research has shown that youth who receive scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education from an early age are more likely:
- to delay partnered sex (intercourse specifically)
- to use birth control
- to use birth control consistently
Some folks assume that talking to kids about contraception and safer sex, especially before they’re teenagers will lead to them experimenting and trying all kinds of sex well before they’re ready for it.
Talking to youth about safer sex in early adolescence, *before* they become sexually active has been proven effective in reducing rates of unintended pregnancy. It hasn’t been shown to encourage early sexual activity or to increase the number of sexual partners youth have.
Most provinces/territories in Canada offer relatively comprehensive sex ed programs in school. Folks who know me know I’m a big advocate of public sex education. But I’m also here for family sex education. In my opinion, a comprehensive approach to teaching sexuality in the home is just as valuable for youth as what they learn in school.
In our families, we have the added benefit of knowing our children and their lives intimately. Home is where we really get to delve into our values around things like safer sex, sexual readiness and taking responsibility for our sexual health. Whereas teachers have to serve the needs of 20-30 students at once, at home we can be specific. We can tailor family lessons about sexuality to our child’s specific maturity level, communication style and interests.
My friends south of the border have more of a mixed bag when it comes to public sex education. Some U.S. schools offer great, comprehensive sex-ed programs for their students. Others...not so much.
Even though a majority of American parents support comprehensive sex ed, it isn’t offered in all school districts. Some states don’t have laws or regulations that require sex ed be factually accurate. Teen pregnancy rates tend to be higher in these areas, so for youth living in sex-ed free parts of America, having family members who can dive in and provide comprehensive, fact-based sex ed at home can make a huge difference.
Access to birth control
Not all teenagers have partnered sex. But age 17, a majority - around two-thirds - have. For the teenagers who are having the type of sex that makes babies, knowing what birth control is, is the first step.
The next and very critical step in reducing the risk of unintended pregnancy is actually getting some form of birth control. And that can be a bit more challenging for teens than it is for us as adults.
Youth may have a harder time finding a doctor or clinic. Once they do, it may be harder for them to get there. A lot of teens have a limited budget and the cost of birth control, especially hormonal birth control can be pretty steep. And because most teens live and share space with their family, finding a place to keep birth control on hand may be an issue.
As adults, we may be able to help youth overcome some of these barriers to access. We may be able to drive them or give them cab or transit fare to get to a clinic. We might have medical insurance or extra money to help teens subsidize the cost of birth control.
There are also types of contraception that can be bought ahead of time and kept on hand. Some families with teens choose to stock the family bathroom with condoms. The Emergency Contraceptive Pill (Plan B) can also be purchased and kept on hand, just in case there’s a time when your teen or their partner’s main method of birth control fails.
Basically, the easier it is for teens to get birth control, the more likely they are to use it.
Teach them how to use it This is a part of safer sex education that we as adults sometimes miss or at least gloss over. We can simply tell teens to “use protection” and then leave them to figure out the details. But that approach may not give our kids enough information to actually use that protection well.
If your teen is using hormonal birth control (the pill, the patch or the NuvaRing), don’t hesitate to look over the instructions and then talk about them with your kid. Do they know when to take their pills or switch out their patch/ring. Do they know what to do if they forget a pill? Or if their patch comes loose? Do they know what medications might reduce the effectiveness of their contraception?
Condoms are a great birth control option for a lot of youth. They’re generally cheaper than the pill, they come in both external (penis) and internal (vaginal/anal) formats and they have the added bonus of reducing the risk of certain STIs. Something else I love about condoms? Teens can practice using them before they start having partnered sex.
If your teen is thinking about condoms as contraception (or to reduce STI risk), you can encourage them to try different brands, different sizes and different textures, so that they can find what fits well and feels good. It’s also fantastic if they can spend some time using them - taking them out of the package, putting them on/in and taking them off/out again.
Condoms do a great job of reducing pregnancy risks - when used correctly. But it can take a bit of practice to get your condom game down and first-time sex is a really high-pressure time to try and figure it all out.
Condoms and hormonal birth-control can have very high effectiveness rates...with perfect use. And as they say, practice makes perfect. Helping your teens understand how birth control works can help them get the most out of their contraception!