By Frances Fox-Pizzonia, LMSW
Director, Community Education & Outreach, Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley
Kids having kids, teen rates of HIV/AIDS skyrocketing – the studies are alarming! Locally, rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea are rising, especially among teens. Recent reports from the Department of Health show the increase is more than 8% in New York. Just because we don’t see the reports every day in the news or in our communities, doesn’t mean it isn’t having an impact on our teens all across the mid-Hudson Valley – in all types of homes, in villages and towns, not just the cities. And what this tells us is that youth are not only just engaging in early sexual activity, but they are also not protecting themselves from dangerous, sometimes deadly, diseases and unintended pregnancy. The alarm is going off but if we continue to hit “snooze” our youth are going to keep suffering because of it.
What have teens learned from their parents, schools, church, friends and the internet? Well, that depends. Not everyone is comfortable talking about sex with their kids. Many schools have not made decisions on how to roll out sex education – most start too little, too late. In New York State, sex education is not mandated or regulated – it’s left up to the individual school districts to decide. And yet we have younger and younger teens getting pregnant or engaging in behaviors they perceive not to be “real” sex that still puts them at risk.
Adolescent brains don’t fully develop until age 25 and many “play with fire” when it comes to protecting themselves, because they don’t yet fully process the consequences of their behavior before they act. So then why do we think that teens will manage to navigate the challenges of decision-making about healthy relationships and sex without some help?
They need our guidance and they need it often.
So what can we do? Keep talking. Keep promoting values while promoting prevention.
They know the dangers of cigarettes. They know why they need to wear a helmet and a seat belt. They hear they aren’t supposed to drink and drive and most recently not to text and drive. Educators, parents and commercials repeat these messages much of the time. And research shows that most youth want and look for guidance on these issues from trusted adults. We need to push for the same behavioral “campaigns” around teens and sex. May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month… so what better way to have one of many conversations?
We parents need to take the lead and get involved in our homes, churches and schools to see that the campaign is widespread. Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley provides parenting education workshops, parent-child puberty sessions, parent-teen talk sessions and peer education programs. As parents you can also set the tone by introducing your teens to a private, adolescent-friendly physician so as young women and men they can begin their journey to adulthood with a knowledge and understanding of how to care for their sexual reproductive health.
What we know for sure is without education and prevention, more teens will engage in sexual behavior too early, have unintended pregnancies or become infected with diseases.
It’s time for us to wake up.