Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention:The Role of Family (cont.)
Moderator: What role do you feel that the community as a whole plays in the development of adolescent sexual identity?
Huberman: We see a lot. When we define the community, that means the schools, health and social service organizations, government, school board or county commission, other adults who live and work in the community and might be close to the teen, and it also means the corporate or business world as well. Some examples of how businesses have been involved in helping young people learn about themselves -- in one community, the local McDonald's franchises printed small cards that were distributed in the schools that gave young people what we call "door opener questions" that they could ask their parents. In another community, a large grocery chain printed on their grocery bags "how to talk to your kids about sex" message and so over seven million bags were distributed to encourage the community at large to talk with and be a resource to young people.
Our sexual identity, how we relate to people in any relationship, begins from the moment of birth and is influenced by many factors. Young people who have a strong sense of self, who believe in themselves, who see themselves as worthy, valuable, responsible, productive individuals generally engage in risky behaviors, whether it's sex, drugs, and alcohol, far less than other young people who perhaps don't feel that way about themselves. We also know from the research that young people who feel connected to their school, meaning they see a reason and a desire to be at school to get education, where they feel connected to other adults in their world, are far less likely to engage in early sexual behavior or unprotected sexual behavior.
Huberman: In the community, our churches and synagogues can play an important role in helping young people to establish who they are. Not only are churches a place where young people learn about values, but churches also can be a place for young people to go to talk to someone. 15 to 19 is a time of moving away from home and mom and dad, and becoming an independent person. As a part of establishing their own identity during teen years, most teens seek out other adults in their life to talk to, to just bounce things off of, and a lot of times, because they love their parents so much and they don't want to disappoint them, they can't tell them certain things. As a result, sometimes they get into problems that are difficult for them to handle all alone. An example would be the young couple in Delaware who couldn't tell anyone she was pregnant, went to college, when delivery time came, went to a motel, had the baby and put it in a dumpster. We know we'd like our kids to come to us, but I think also important is that we give our kids permission to go to other trusted adults when they can't come to us. No young person should face difficult decisions all alone. It's important to say if you can't come to me with anything, then I want you to know that you can go to Aunt Mary, or to Rabbi Cohen, or you can go to coach Smith, and they'll help you.
Moderator: What are some of the clues that parents need to be aware of when their children need to have a discussion about sexuality?
Huberman: Some of the clues revolve around body changes. As children mature and grow older, and as their bodies begin to change, that's a time when parents need to sit down and have conversations to prepare their child, so that it's not a total shock to them, so that they have good, accurate information, so they don't feel afraid when something does happen. I remember when I started my period I was 11 years old, and my mother never told me anything about periods, and I thought something was wrong with me. I thought I was bleeding to death. Another opportunity for parents comes as children get older and they learn to hide their own questions behind, "Mom, my friend Susie would like to know..." It's important for parents to answer the question as best they can before they ask, "Why do you ask me that?" What's also important when your children ask you questions or come to you for information is that you appreciate them for doing that. Say, "I'm so glad you came to me, and my door is always open for you to do that." I tell parents that throughout the lifetime of raising a child there are hundreds of teachable moments. Helping your child grow up to be a responsible, healthy, positive person who feels good about themselves as a sexual person is a lifelong process. It's not an event. You don't sit down and have the birds and the bees talk. Take advantage of the teachable moments that happen every day in a family. Perhaps a relative is having a baby. Perhaps someone is getting married, a perfect opportunity to talk about relationships. A neighborhood child says, "Girls can't do that." That's a perfect moment to say, "We believe in our family that girls can do anything they want to do." Things they see on TV -- our office was flooded with calls during presidential problems with the intern with parents who were saying, "How do I explain to my six year old what oral sex is? How do I explain to my 12 or 13 year old that what the president does is not what we might do in our own home? What do I say about sexual relationships outside of marriage," and many parents wanting to know, "How do you talk about what a sexual relationship is? Does oral sex count?"
One of the trends we are seeing, especially the preteens who are engaging in oral sex to protect what we tell them they must protect, virginity on the part of the girl, this is not the case in other developed countries. Young women who heard this "abstinence only" message, in order to get a boyfriend, keep a boyfriend, be a part of the group, are engaging in oral sex, and don't realize that while it protects them or they're not going to get pregnant, they are putting themselves at risk for STD's and HIV.
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