Written on May 9, 2014 at 11:48 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
Let’s be honest. When we say “teen pregnancy” we really mean “girls getting pregnant.” It’s as if all boys cared about was having sex—without giving a thought to the possible consequences. But it’s not as simple as that. Almost all the young men I’ve worked with who experienced a pregnancy scare (or a pregnancy) had complicated reactions to it.
To get some insight into the boy perspective, I asked Tom,* one of the young men who helped edit my recent book Masterminds and Wingmen, to share what he went through with his high school girlfriend. Here’s what he shared:
“When I was a junior in high school, I had a girlfriend who was a senior. We lost our virginity to each other. There was this week where I could feel her tension but I didn’t know what was going on. Then she told me that her period was two weeks late.
I remember it so vividly and what I was thinking. I’m dating this girl but I’m not ready to marry her. I’m looking at her mom and my future life with this person and that’s terrifying. At 18 you’re beginning to understand the larger implications because in my high school there was a girl who had a kid. I’d heard stories of people my age getting married and then you’re in it forever.
Part of me thought this was a team decision and part of me didn’t. Her decision dictated my future and it was really uncomfortable to have that in someone else’s hands. But my mom always said if I got someone pregnant it was my responsibility, and with her that was huge. My dad left my mom when I was 2 and she was pregnant with my younger brother. She took responsibility for us. So when she said that to me, and that was before I was having sex, I got it and I remembered it. She was good about that—laying the groundwork before I was actually doing these things.”
Tom brings up incredibly important issues. First, even if teens don’t tell their parents or other adults in their lives what’s going on, those adults have tremendous influence. Whatever those adults have said to them about pregnancy in the past is immediately front and center in their mind. Time and time again, boys have told me that in these situations they want to be able to talk about their feelings but don’t feel that they have the right to.
Second, their past has a deep impact on the future they imagine. If their own fathers have not been around, they feel deeply conflicted or often fantasize about how they’re going to be a better father than they’ve had.
Third, and the biggest issue I’ve seen by far, is how they listen to and respect their partner’s emotional reactions to the pregnancy. It’s hard for them to courteously articulate what they want in light of what their partner also wants. It’s so hard because boys and young men are so rarely taught how to have these incredibly difficult conversations. Adults don’t often know how to.
One of the most important things we can do as parents of boys is to engage them in conversations around all these topics. Talk to them about their possible emotional reactions to getting a sexual partner pregnant. When we don’t include boys in the conversation, we contribute to young men not feeling they have a right to an opinion when they get a girl pregnant, and condoning boys believing it’s not their responsibility when they get someone pregnant. Having these conversations doesn’t condone irresponsible sexual behavior. It is a critical opportunity to articulate your values about personal responsibility, meaningful emotional connection and facing difficult, seemingly overwhelming situations with integrity and grace.
*Name has been changed.
Have you talked to your teenage son about pregnancy? What did you say? Post a comment and tell us here.
Categories: Momster, National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, Parenting Advice by Rosalind Wiseman, Parenting Teens & Tweens, The Sex Talk | Tags: National teen pregnancy prevention month, parenting advice, rosalind wiseman, Teen pregnancy
Written on May 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm , by Lynya Floyd
“She swears up and down they used a condom,” says Meghan,* 48, a mom of two from Missouri. But three years ago, Meghan’s 19-year-old daughter became part of the 11% of 18- and 19-year old girls who get pregnant each year.** What’s more, nearly three out of 10 girls in the U.S. get pregnant by age 20. During National Teen Pregnancy Prevent Month, Family Circle shares Megan’s story and offers expert advice every parent needs to know.
Three years ago, Meghan Davis’ life was in flux. “I was on my own,” she says. “I had just filed for divorce, left our big house and moved into a two-bedroom apartment with my youngest daughter, a high school junior.” It was Thanksgiving break and her 19-year-old daughter, Emily, was home from college and had swung by the apartment to check in. “She just sat down in the living room and didn’t say anything,” recalls Meghan, who had a weird feeling once her daughter arrived. “Then Emily just started bawling. She just cried and cried. And once she was done, she said, ‘I’m pregnant and I don’t know what to do.’”
A whopping two-thirds of teen pregnancies occur in 18- and 19-year olds, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. That’s older kids whose parents may be experiencing life changes themselves as their kids enter the workforce of head off to college. One of several factors that might put these older kids at greater risk is the fact that they’re entering a brand-new world.
“The most vulnerable time for kids on a college campus is first semester freshman year,” reveals Deborah Roffman, a sexuality educator and author of Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex. “They’re starting all over again. They’re wanting to fit in. They’re figuring out how to make decisions that will help them fit in—as opposed to how to make decisions in their own best interest.”
No matter how old your teenager is, you can still have a significant impact on the choices they make. “Even though you are losing a lot of direct power and control as they get older, what you gain is influence,” says Roffman. “Parents need to be involved in talking to their kids, no matter how old they are, about what their hopes and dreams are for themselves.”
Indeed, 39% of teens ages 13 to 17 say they have never thought about what their life would be like if they were to get pregnant or cause a pregnancy, according to new research from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Never. “It’s our job to reality-test them,” says Roffman. “Say, ‘If you make that choice, what will happen?’ Help them think critically about their choices by asking great questions.”
Conversation starters for older teens may not be intuitive, so we’ve created a list of them here, and Meghan adds to it. “If there’s one thing I could tell other mothers, I’d say get your daughter to think about herself,” she asserts. “Your daughter can’t just expect the man to be providing the protection; she has to take charge of her own life. I would’ve preferred that my daughter had taken care of birth control closer to the 100% effective mark herself.”
Getting as close to 100% protection as possible—if not through abstinence then by using two methods of birth control—not only protects against sexually transmitted diseases but can compensate for imperfect methods and imperfect users. “We do know a lot of young people are using contraception. They just might not be using it consistently or correctly,” explains Marisa Nightingale, senior media advisor for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “And if you’re not actively planning to prevent pregnancy, you’re essentially planning to get pregnant.”
After her daughter stopped crying, there were actually smiles. “My thinking was that there’s nothing to be done about it now. I’m not going to boo-hoo the whole nine months,” says Meghan. “Once Emily calmed down, I said, ‘Well, you’re pregnant. Are we going to be happy about it?’ And that made her laugh.” She admits that the timing was difficult and there have been some tough moments, but they came through them to better days without regret. “This is my first grandchild,” says Meghan of her now-2-year-old grandson. “Neither I nor my daughter would change a thing.”
* Names and identifying characteristics have been changed.
** Most recent data is for 2009.
Have you had a pregnancy scare with your older teen? Post a comment and tell us what happened.
Written on May 6, 2014 at 11:12 am , by Lynya Floyd
You might think there’s nothing you can tell an 18- or 19-year-old about sex—well, nothing that they’ll actually listen to. But that’s not the case. “More and more studies say parents do have influence over their teens in terms of delaying sex and using protection when they have sex,” encourages Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. And with 11% of 18- and 19-year-old girls becoming pregnant in 2009 (the year with the most recent data available), sex talks are critical. “As high school comes to an end and transitions to adulthood begin, it’s important to have conversations with teenagers about both birth control and condoms so they can protect themselves against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease,” says Kantor. Try these opening lines that go way beyond the birds and the bees.
“How do you feel about LARCs?”
If talking about birth control is on the table, be sure to bring up all forms that are available to teens. LARCs—Long-Acting Reversible Contraception—include options like the IUD and Implanon, and they mean your teen doesn’t have to remember to take a pill daily for pregnancy prevention. “Not all parents know there are really highly effective methods of birth control out there that are appropriate for teens, like the IUD and the implant,” explains Kantor. “New studies show they’re extremely protective.” Not only is this a good conversation starter for you and your kid, but it’s one he can spark with his partner and she can begin with her ob/gyn as well.
“Are you comfortable talking to Dr. Williams?”
“I’ve heard from young people that they’ll lie to a doctor if that doctor is being judgmental,” reveals Marisa Nightingale, senior media advisor for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. If your teen doesn’t have a good relationship with their doctor, it’s time to repair it or find a new person they can relate to and won’t be embarrassed to go to for help. Allowing younger teens a few minutes alone with their MD—instead of monitoring the whole appointment—helps build that relationship.
“So where exactly is the campus health clinic?”
If your kid’s in college, waiting until Thanksgiving or spring break to see a doctor at home isn’t always the best idea. If they need faster care or have pressing questions, they should know where to find answers at school. Again, being at ease speaking with an MD is critical. “It’s not just knowing where the campus health services are, but helping to give your kids a confidence booster to handle themselves in a clinic setting too,” explains Nightingale.
“How do you know if someone wants to have sex with you?”
Chances are they’ll be conjuring up images of a movie scene while you’re about to drive home a much more real message about consent. “I think giving consent is something young people are not getting enough information about in their school sex education programs,” says Kantor. “We have to help young people understand that if someone is drunk or high they can’t consent to have sex in a number of states. The absence of no doesn’t mean yes.”
“Do you think you’ll want to stay in our hometown after graduation?”
This isn’t about your desire to turn their bedroom into a crafting corner. It’s about getting them to imagine their future, like with this app. “What profession are they interested in? Where do they want to live? Really considering these things makes them think about how becoming a parent as a teen would get in the way of that,” explains Kantor. “When teenagers are ambivalent about pregnancy, they’re more likely to take risks. So just getting young people to think, Is this something I’d want? gets them to delay sex and use birth control.”
One last, critical message that experts want to drive home with teens: “You can always say no to sex—even if you have said yes before,” explains Nightingale. “That’s really important for young people to know.”
Have you taken the “sex talk” to the next level with your older teen? What messages were important for you to share? Post a comment and tell us.
Written on May 5, 2014 at 11:47 am , by Lynya Floyd
“Nothing shook our family like my teenage daughter’s pregnancy,” says Andrea*, 53, a Washington-based mom of three. And she’s not alone. Even though there have been tremendous declines in teen pregnancy, almost three in 10 girls get pregnant in the U.S. before age 20. As part of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, Family Circle will shine a light on sex stats that will surprise you, offer expert advice every parent must hear and share stories of the most vulnerable group of teens—they’re not who you think—starting with Andrea’s daughter.
One August morning, Andrea Richards, a mom of three, climbed out of bed and made her way downstairs to find a letter sitting on the table. It was from her daughter, Kate, and the message would send her frantically rushing back upstairs to wake her husband.
Kate was three months pregnant. She didn’t know how else to break the news to them. And she had packed up and left home in the middle of the night.
“I was devastated,” says Andrea, who was 45 at the time. “Kate was an honor student. All the hopes and dreams of her going to college were gone.” Those dreams were just weeks away from being realized: Kate was 18, working a part-time job in retail and slated to start community college in the fall.
STILL AT RISK
Two-thirds of all teen pregnancies occur in 18- and 19-year-olds, according to research done by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (TNC). That’s right, older kids. “Many people find that surprising because they might be more accustomed to seeing images of girls in the media who are 14, 15 or 16 and pregnant,” says Marisa Nightingale, senior media advisor for The National Campaign. “But the average age for sex is 17 for boys and girls. So 18- and 19-year-olds are more likely to be sexually active. And nothing magical happens overnight when someone turns 18 that makes them less likely to get pregnant or better at using contraception.”
Before you start to wonder if the numbers are skewed toward teens who get hitched after graduation, let’s dispel that notion. The vast majority (86%) of all births to 18- and 19-year-olds were to unmarried women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So we’re talking about teens who have just nabbed their first job or already gotten an acceptance letter from college, or they may be making their way through freshman year. But in one pivotal moment, the blank slate of their future—and likely yours, mom, as well—now has something permanently written on it. For Kate, that pivotal moment was on prom night.
“I didn’t suspect this with her at all. We had everything in order,” says Andrea, who shares that her daughter was “in love with love” and dating a boy she and her husband didn’t approve of. They kept close tabs on her. “We drove Kate to prom. We knew where she was going to be. She even called me at midnight and asked if she could spend the night at a friend’s house. I said no. Curfew was 2 a.m.,” remembers Andrea. “So whatever decision Kate made between midnight and 2:15 a.m., when she walked in the door to our home, changed her life forever.”
FINDING THE WORDS
“I told Kate that I hoped she wouldn’t have sex with someone until she was old enough and ready. I was never going to take her to get contraception because it was never okay to have sex before you were married,” explains Andrea. She says she had plenty of “sex talks” with her daughter, who was raised with the family’s Catholic beliefs, and was devastated that she and her husband were the last to find out their daughter was pregnant. “Other kids knew. Other parents knew. No one said anything. Things would’ve been quite different if someone had told us. We would’ve sat down and talked to Kate. She didn’t have to leave the house. We wouldn’t have wanted her to do that.”
Not only does the “sex talk” need to be an ongoing conversation with your child, experts suggest that it also needs to be a broad conversation. “You’re trying to build sexual confidence,” explains John Chirban, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk with Your Kids About Sex. He points out that this isn’t about just having the strength to say no, but also accepting all the potential consequences of saying yes…and what can happen next.
“It’s role-playing, talking about incidents and teaching your child to direct and manage their sexuality. As a parent, it’s incredibly important to own your point of view and be true to what’s spiritually or religiously correct,” says Chirban, a father of three. “But just saying no doesn’t respond to what a teenager is feeling in the heat of the moment in a relationship.” At the same time, saying yes has consequences that extend way beyond those two teens.
Today Kate lives in another state and is engaged to be married—but not to the father of her now-8-year-old daughter. Andrea’s relationship with Kate is much improved and she absolutely adores her granddaughter. Still, everything that’s happened since she found that note hasn’t been easy. “This isn’t a club I would’ve wanted to join,” says Andrea. “But things are turning out okay today.” One message that she wants other moms to hear: “It’s a hard road, but believe me, you have enough love for your daughter and grandchild to pull through.”
*Names have been changed.
Has your child ever had a pregnancy scare? Post a comment and share what happened.