My husband and I opened our home for 8 years to pregnant teens. Of all the girls who came through our home, most didn’t have the support of the father of their child. Not ONE of the girls ended up married to the guy. Most went on to be single moms. I also noticed that only one had a present positive father in her own life. Indeed a girl growing up without a present dad, is 7x more likely to become pregnant as a teen.
That experience was one of my prime motivations to start speaking to teens about abstinence over 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve heard and read about the crisis of “fatherless” homes, and the effects on children.
Pew Research Center reports that only 11 percent of children in the U.S. lived apart from their fathers in 1960. Now, according to Census data, one in every three American children are growing up in a home without their biological father. Some people have given up, and said we don’t need men, we just need more support for women who are parenting alone. But fathers, it appears from the numerous studies and data going back many decades, actually DO matter. This infographic from The National Fatherhood Initiative shows the many difficulties fatherless children face. If you are a parent raising your child without an involved father, this is not meant to heap more burdens on you. It’s only to encourage you to help your child see the difficulties that can arise from early sexual activity…such as the chance of single parenting and a tough road for them and their children.
This week, we are continuing our series on facing tough parenting challenges. What happens when you find out that your teenage daughter is pregnant?
Many emotional reactions would be totally normal and very justified: shock, disappointment, anger. Keep in mind, though, that the person who is probably most shocked (and maybe even disappointed and angry) is your daughter. (And if you are thinking that “she knew what she was doing and what the risks were,” that may not be the case. Research on the teen brain gives her at least a small reason to feel shocked.)
Calm down. Count to ten…slowly…before saying anything that you may regret. If she came out and told you directly, and you need to respond, try “Thank you for telling me. That must have been hard for you.” If she told you in writing, or you found out some other way when she is not around, use that breathing room to your advantage. If she told you directly and you have already reacted in a way that you now regret, it is never too late for an apology and to ask for a “do-over.” My guess is that both of you will have a lot to work through in the coming weeks and months, and there will likely be a lot to forgive on both sides.
Facing an unplanned pregnancy, particularly when someone is young and unmarried, is (for most of us at least) terrifying. Your daughter needs you now more than ever. And while everything in you might be aching to point out how irresponsible and stupid her decisions were, she’s been saying that to herself ever since she read that positive pregnancy test. There will be time for reflection later — for the “what have we learned from this” discussion and the “what does this make you want to do differently” discussion. Right now, getting to have those discussions will depend on your response and support during the crisis stage. Try some of these approaches:
Ask who else knows. Give her space to share what has happened up to this point of telling you.
Ask about the father. Who is he? Does he know? If he does, what was his reaction? Do his parents know? Gather as much information as you can. Try not criminalize the father, as this could cause a deep rift between you and your daughter.
Ask what her thoughts about the future are. What are her plans now that she has discovered that she is pregnant? Try not to interject your own thoughts about what she should do.
Ask what she needs or wants most right now: information, help with researching her options, a doctor’s appointment.
Love her. If parental love is truly unconditional, it should overflow even now, regardless of her actions. Loving her right now is not “rewarding bad behavior.” And by love her, I mean show it. Take her out for ice cream, just to say “You’re still my daughter and I love you.”
If (when) you need to vent, pick a safe friend who can keep a confidence and talk over your feelings. Avoid speaking to people who have a close relationship with your daughter unless your daughter is okay with it. While you have every right to need to discuss what you are going through, it is best to avoid overly exposing your daughter.
As you process your new reality, your daughter may find it beneficial to talk to a professional. Avenue Women’s Center is a local organization with experience in non-judgmental counseling for pregnant teens (and they offer services for parents, too). It is also important that your daughter see a doctor. After all, she is a growing child herself! The doctor will give your daughter a full examination and give much needed instruction about nutrition and prenatal care.
Your daughter’s life as well as your own is about to change. In several months, you may hold a grandchild in your arms. While your family may no longer look the way you imagined, start imagining your new family. Where do you want to be in a year, or five? How can you support your daughter in order to get there?
“Among those teens who haven’t had sex, the primary reason they give for…well…not doing it is that having sex at this point in their lives is against their religion or morals, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” This quote comes from a Washington Times op ed by Sarah Brown from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in which she discusses the difference that faith may have on the sexual choices of teens today. She continues, “Research makes clear that religion, faith, and a strong moral sense play vital roles in protecting teens from too-early sexual activity and teen pregnancy. In particular, being connected to a religious community has been linked with a decreased risk for teen pregnancy. Moreover, a survey we released this week suggests that the majority of Americans want more from religious groups rather than less. Some 52 percent of adults and 57 percent of teens think religious leaders and groups should be doing more to help prevent teen pregnancy.”
This leads me to a suggestion. If any of you, among my readers, belong to a faith community, Amplify Development offers our program to you and you teens. We also do parent workshops. Although the vast majority of our speaking engagements are in a secular forum–public schools–our message has broad appeal to teens in various settings. From our website amplifyyouthdevelopment.com: “We work with both public and private institutions, ensuring that we teach our curricula in a manner consistent with the values of each of our partner organizations. Our program is based on current research about sexual health, bonding, and relationship formation. We are careful to teach in a sensitive manner that allows for multiple points of view while communicating the core message that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the safest and healthiest choice.” If you want to bring our program to your youth group or community group, give Andrea Nelson a call at 630-493-1523.
Last month I wrote about Plan B (birth control ) being available to teens “as young as 15.” That’s changed. A district judge ruled that the FDA must comply with a court ruling to “make Plan B One-Step contraceptive pills available to women and girls of any age without a prescription.” The Obama administration had opposed children having access to Plan B over the counter, but on June 10 abandoned its opposition according to a Washington Post article.
What is Plan B? Someone who is concerned about the possibility of pregnancy takes Plan B (one or two pills, depending on the formula) within 72 hours of intercourse. These pills contain high doses of a synthetic version of progestin, a steroid hormone. The idea is to prevent ovulation, or prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg, or if fertilization has happened, to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. This last result is the one that is controversial for those who believe life begins at fertilization. It is controversial to a LOT of people that young children be given access over the counter to these hormones!
The thought that our young children could be convinced that “nothing will happen” and that a pill can be obtained to (supposedly) wipe away the consequences of a sexual act is more than disturbing to me. In the 10 years I’ve been teaching in schools, I’ve seen the debut of sexual activity begin at younger and younger ages. Indeed, sexual predators, molesters, or even just “players” use the excuse that “nothing will happen” (because we’ll “use a condom” or “take pills”) to pressure and persuade. Early sexual activity simply puts children at risk of emotional, social, and physical consequences.
Young children (OUR children) obtaining powerful hormones without our knowledge seems to me to be a recipe for great hurt.
Despite all that our schools have done in educating teens, apparently girls (and women) are still deluded when it comes to their perception of their own fertility. A recent study revealed that over a third of those who didn’t use contraception (36%) said they did not think they could get pregnant! Is it any wonder that nearly 4 out of 5 births to teens are unplanned? Let’s keep this in mind the next time an unplanned pregnancy is discussed on TV, or a teen pregnancy happens in school or in the neighborhood. It’s a good time to point out to your son or daughter that a lot of people who don’t think it will happen to them find themselves in a really tough spot. And why not follow up that comment with a reminder that the only 100% guaranteed method of birth control for teens is to remain abstinent until marriage.
Last week I found myself in a car dealership looking at cars since I’m thinking of passing my old Toyota on to one of my daughters. In making small talk with the salesman, he asked what I do. I laughed and said I have an odd job: I talk to teens about sex, dating and relationships, and help them think through their choices, so they can have the future they hope for. This young man nodded knowingly, and said “I was a Prom baby.” He went on to explain how his Mom was on track to graduate with honors and get into a great college. But that cute, hot football player…well, things just happened. I asked if she ever went to college. He said no, and that after a shotgun wedding and two other children, his parents divorced. Sadly, his sister is now a single parent, having gotten pregnant before college as well.
This is an increasingly common story. Forbes magazine recently noted: “Turn back the clock 30 years, and less than 20% of births occurred outside marriage. Today the rate is 41%.” When I talk to teens, I always point out what a heroic job single parents are doing, and that it’s really, really tough to do what is really a two-person job. As outlined in the Forbes magazine article, by almost any measure single parenthood is tough, and children growing up in single parent homes have an uphill battle, more likely to experience lower education levels, poorer paying jobs, poverty, and becoming a single parent as well.
As parents, whether or not we found ourselves on that road, we hope for a different path for our precious sons and daughters. Indeed, a reminder of the difficulties of parenting at a young age, often alone, is enough to spur us on in our quest to help our teens choose abstinence.
Action Idea: Look for a chance to discuss the difficulties of single parents the next time your child comes home with a story about someone getting pregnant, or when your teen watches “Sixteen and Pregnant” or similar shows on TV.
In March I sounded the alarm about an objectionable new show, Skins. Mercifully, it’s been dropped according to the Washington Post. So what other shows might parents hope will meet a similar demise? Jersey Shore, also on MTV, is a good candidate in my mind, but it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. I think the jury is still out on whether the overall impact of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” is good (showing consequences) or bad (turning wayward teens into celebrities, and normalizing teen pregnancy).
As I’ve said before, concerned parents will handle this in different ways. You might watch shows together and use what you see as a springboard for some great conversation. Or you might exercise a little justifiable censorship (especially with younger teens). If you would like to see MTV or other channels “disappear” from the channel lineup (be prepared for howling and gnashing of teeth), here are links explaining how to do it:
For many teens, talking with their parents about sex is something they find awkward. Interestingly, teens themselves sometimes find ways to “lighten up” conversations about sex. Researchers observed that, compared to girls, “Male adolescents used more sarcasm with their parent. They made it seem as if it was acceptable to joke around with their parent about sex….downplaying the seriousness of it and putting their parent and themselves at ease.” Interestingly, boys were more likely to use such sarcasm when talking to fathers. Boys also appeared to be slightly more willing to talk about the topic with a parent than girls.
So how do we make use of this information? Keep in mind that a boy may relieve discomfort by using sometimes startling sarcasm: “That rash I had last week was really a hickey, Mom.” Knowing that he is probably trying to lighten things up, it would be wise to not react as if this is a disrespectful stance, but instead join in the “banter” with a similarly playful comment or just a laugh.
In the upcoming weeks, I will continue to share findings from this study on how teens and parents talk about sex. The article is fairly “academic “in nature, but if you have the patience, and want to read some fascinating stuff, including real conversations teens had with their parents, click here for the whole article in the Journal of Adolescent Research.
An April 5 press release (quoted below) from the National Abstinence Education Association tells us that there is encouraging news for those who believe that abstinence is a viable choice for teens.
A report released today from the CDC indicates that teen birth rates have decreased by 37 percent in the past two decades. This heartening statistic begs a closer look at the trends that have aided this decrease. Most noticeably, this encouraging statistic has been the result of a surprising trend among teens that, according to another recent CDC data report, they are choosing not to have sex. 2006-2008 survey results from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that 68% of boys and 67% of girls (ages 15-17) have not have sexual intercourse and that overall sexual contact trends are also moving in the right direction. 53% of boys and 58% of girls report never having had oral, anal, or vaginal sex with anyone.
“While these statistics certainly do not mean that teen sexual activity is not an issue of concern, they do compel us to examine what is working and what is causing teens to reject the ‘everybody’s doing it” myth promulgated in the media,” stated Valerie Huber, Executive Director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). Huber continued, “While some argue that teens simply need access to more birth control and devices, perhaps a closer look would show us that they need more support for the good decisions they are making to abstain. Current public policy has failed to recognize and support the positive behavioral trends among teens by failing to provide resources for comprehensive risk avoidance sex education.”
The report further indicates that contraceptive use is lowest and teen birth rates are highest among Hispanic and Black teen populations. For decades sex education for these populations has been primarily a contraceptive-centered approach. “Perhaps it is time to start believing that all teens can be empowered with the skills to resist early sexual activity. Let’s capitalize on what is working and increase the positive direction of teen sexual health”, said Huber.
When we think of the consequences of teen pregnancy, or getting an STD, or the pain of a breakup, as parents we shudder. It’s perhaps our greatest fear that our precious children will have to deal with such “adult” things. Recently, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reported that while most measures of teens’ sexual behavior (like teen pregnancy) declined between 1991 and 2007, in the past two years progress has stalled. The authors wrote that:
Nearly half of all teens have ever had sex. Between 2007 and 2009 the proportion of students who ever had sex essentially remained unchange. [Note: reputable studies put this figure at between 42 and 46 percent].
More than one-third are sexually active–that is, they have had sex in the past three months.
More than 1 in 20 teens were younger than 13 when they first had sex.
We already know from the U.S. Center for Disease Control that as much as 40 percent of all teens have gotten an STD.
A couple weeks ago, Amplify held its first Parent support meeting. We had a great time sharing challenges, discussing strategies, and getting information on how to manage some of the concerns…both big and small…that we face as parents of teens. Check out our website, mylifeamplified.com, and you’ll find a wealth of information, as well as a notice about our upcoming meeting on July 27. Hope to see some of you there.