For the first time since 1990, Rob Stein reports in today’s Washington Post, the rate of teen pregnancy is increasing. That news is likely no surprise for educators, counselors and activists working with teenagers, whether in distressed inner city schools or cozy suburban neighborhoods. In both settings and others in-between, teens are increasingly without resources vital to reducing behaviors that contribute to risky sexual activity: positive adult role models and their parents’ active engagement.
While there is no one size fits all approach to reducing teen pregnancy, educational programs that focus on helping youngsters better express themselves through conversations with trusted confidants offer much promise. That’s especially so when confidants are parents and other significant adults who are able to model healthy relationship building skills.
Last year, PAIRS Foundation delivered communication skills training to 135 teenage mothers and expectant mothers through a partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The training included modules on understanding and expressing emotions, active listening, and healthy conflict resolution that allowed the youngsters to better understand themselves and confide in others.
The results of follow-up research nearly half a year later offered important guidance to future efforts aimed at reducing teen pregnancy rates:
- Eighty-six percent reported an improved ability to say “no” to unwanted sexual advances;
- Eighty-two percent reported a greater ability to confide feelings about sexual issues with significant others;
- Seventy-seven percent were more likely to consider consequences of their decisions about sexual behavior;
- Sixty-four percent said their ability to talk with friends about sex improved;
- Fifty-three percent said their ability to talk with parents, stepparents or guardians about sex improved.
Lessons learned emphasize the importance of focusing on emotional understanding, improving the ability to confide and resolve differences, building self-worth and self-esteem, and providing coinciding training to significant adults whose behaviors, attitudes, and engagement powerfully influences teen decisions about sex.