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The Parent Buzz
A Newsletter for Parents from Let's Be Honest
July 2008 - Vol 1, Issue 11
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Welcome to The Parent Buzz, an e-newsletter designed especially for parents and caregivers of middle school-aged children by Let's Be Honest, the Parent Education program of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

Unplanned pregnancy, especially teen pregnancy, seems to be high on Hollywood's and television's radar screen these days. Recent reports include the sudden increase in teen pregnancies in Gloucester, Massachusetts and several media-hyped celebrity pregnancies, including Jamie Lynn Spears, the teenage sister of singer Britney Spears.

In fact, the rate at which teen girls became mothers rose 2.8 percent in 2006 from a year earlier, according to a report on children compiled by 22 US agencies. The increase ended a decline that began when the teen birth rate peaked at 38 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 in 1991, the report's authors said. The 2006 reversal is a, "red flag that something has gone wrong," and comes after government and health groups had crusaded against teen pregnancies in the 1990s, according to Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

It's understandable that many parents were reeling with the announcement that Jamie Lynn Spears, 17, recently has delivered a baby. Jamie Lynn, the past star of a very popular 'tween (a current term used to describe children between the approximate ages of 8 and 15) show, Zoey 101, had a large following of fans, most of whom are in middle school. The question a lot of parents grapple with is how to talk to their children about such news. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy issued the following statement, "The media frenzy that has erupted regarding the birth provides every parent, teacher, media outlet and more a chance to state the truth: babies need and deserve adult parents who are committed to each other and to decades of being the best parents possible. Hundreds of thousands of teens and unmarried young adults get pregnant and become parents every single year, and few of them have Hollywood beginnings or endings. Getting pregnant and bearing children is one of the most important steps that any person ever takes, and it deserves careful planning, thought and consideration."

We must continue to talk with our young people about the real-life consequences of sex, in order to give them the tools and information to stay safe and healthy.

  • The first thing to do is to make sure you bring the topic up with your children. Don't assume that they're already working it out with their friends or that they don't know. Be involved and use this opportunity to have a heart-to-heart discussion with your young child about teen sex.
  • The typical age range of Jamie Lynn fans is 8-15 years of age. If your child is younger or you're not sure how much they know about the news, ask them what their friends are saying about Jamie Lynn and the birth of her child.
  • The group that will be most affected by this news will be middle- schoolers, according to the American Psychological Association, especially those with low self-esteem and lower identity issues.
  • Once you have found out what your child knows about the news, you should clear up any information they might be missing. This is not the time to let them wonder about random speculation or other rumors, ensure they have the facts straight and that they understand as much as they can.
  • The way you address the news will be contingent on how much previous information you have already shared with your children about sex. If you haven't had the "talk," now might be a good time! Even teens can benefit from a frank discussion about sex and how to process this news.
  • It's important that adolescents realize that while Hollywood, television and magazines may glamorize teen pregnancy, reality paints a far bleaker picture. Help them understand the emotional, physical and social challenges of being a teen parent including: the higher risk of school drop-out and poverty rates for teen parents; less than one-third of teenagers who give birth before the age of eighteen will ever obtain a high school diploma; and, a high percentage of teen mothers remain unmarried.
  • Babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to be premature, less healthy and more often have health and behavior problems that may persist throughout their lives.
  • With teenagers, the key point to hit home is that they're not invulnerable, these things can and do happen and pregnancy, and even STIs (sexually transmitted infections), can happen to anyone engaging in sex.
  • Don't forget the boys. Your sons are just as likely to be engaged in sexual activity and can benefit from the same conversations and insight that you might provide your daughter!
  • Remember, children respect their parents who stay involved and connected in their lives. You, as a parent, are very influential as long as you stay on top of the situation. They may act like they don't want to hear you, but research has show that what you say does stick with them.

After you've addressed the news with your child, it's a good idea to assess your involvement as a parent.

  • The first place a child is likely to engage in sexual activity is in their own home, when they're not being supervised.
  • Know your child's friends and boy/girlfriends and what they're doing when they're not with you.
  • Pay attention to age ranges. Letting a young teenager date someone several years older can sometimes increase the potential for sexual activity. Relationships with older people can come with adult expectations that many teens just aren't ready for.
  • Sexual activity is most likely to occur between the hours of 3 and 6 in the afternoon, before many parents get home from work.
  • It's important to set parameters that your child can understand. Give them clear rules on who can come to the house when you're not there and who can't.
  • Giving your child your trust is also important, let them show you they can handle the rules you have set out. If they show they can't handle the rules though, make sure they understand the consequences and enforce them at all costs.
NBC's new reality show, "The Baby Borrowers," offers parents an invaluable opportunity to have ongoing conversations with their children and adolescents about the realities of sexual health. Almost half of all teens have never considered how a pregnancy would affect their lives. Yet one in three girls gets pregnant at least once by age 20. Most teens who get pregnant -- or get someone pregnant -- say they never thought it would happen to them. Recent studies show that 87% of US teens say it would be easier to postpone sexual activity if they were able to talk more openly about sex with their parents, but 37% of teens say that they have never had a single conversation with their parents on this topic. Parents, did you know that teens say the #1 influence on their decisions about sex is their parents? Have you talked with your teen about sex and consequences? Think about some good ways to get them to think about the consequences of sex and the realities of pregnancy and parenthood. Read on for some suggested tips for talking!

The premise of "The Baby Borrowers" is to educate teens about unplanned pregnancy. The network has teamed up with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy to produce the show which features five 18-to-20-year-old couples with varying ideas about time frames for marriage and family, road-testing adult life by living together for the first time and becoming caregivers - of babies, then toddlers, then older children and the elderly.

This reality show offers important lessons for kids of all ages -- even though it's clearly targeting teens and their parents. Although the concept of having babies is inherently sexual, the content steers away from reproduction and focuses on the reality of what happens when a living, breathing baby (or toddler, or tween, etc.) comes into the picture. Families can talk about whether watching this program changes any assumptions about what it's like to be an adult. Parents, share with your youth whether watching the teen parents in action reminds you of your own experiences as first-time parents and whether there was anything you wish you'd known before having kids that you had to learn after the fact.

In conversations about this show (after watching it with your adolescent!) or recent media reports of teen pregnancy, we suggest that families consider the following questions for discussion:

  • What is the best thing about being a teen right now?
  • What is the toughest thing about being a teen right now?
  • As a teen, what are some of your goals for the future?
  • How would their lives change if they got pregnant or got someone else pregnant?
  • What kind of a budget is required to properly feel, clothe and care for a child?
  • How would a teen earn enough money to meet those needs?
  • Is teen pregnancy a problem where you live?
  • What is the impact of teen pregnancy on a family? Community?

Don't forget to visit our website at http://www.plannedparenthood.org/ma/for-parents.htm. Our website is updated regularly with helpful tips for talking, information about workshops, and much more. Don't miss an opportunity to be the primary sexuality educator for your children. Need help? Call our Parent Education Team at (617) 616-1658.


Parent Education
Planned Parenthood League of MA

phone: (617) 616-1658
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