After nearly 15 years of fewer teens having babies, the number
of births by teen moms (ages 15 to 19) went up 3% in 2006 - the
first increase since 1991, says a new government report.
And 39% of all births in 2006 were from unmarried mothers - an
all-time high, according to the report by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC). The report does boast a bit of good
news on the teen pregnancy front - births by girls 14 and under
dropped, even if only ever so slightly (1/10
of a percent). The findings also show that three times more 18- and
19-year-olds are giving birth than girls 15 to 17.
Why are more kids having kids of their own now versus almost 15
years ago? Ask different experts and they're likely to give
different reasons. But one commonly accepted reason is that many
teens feared AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) during the
1990s, which scared more of them into using condoms, choosing fewer
partners, or opting out of sex altogether. But as AIDS publicity
diminished and treatments advanced, teens became less spooked about
the dimming prospect of dying from being sexuality active.
Now, many teens today are deciding to have sex - often
unprotected - as nearly 1 million teenage girls in the United
States give birth every year. And although AIDS gets less media
attention than it did in decades past, an estimated 42 million
people worldwide are still living with AIDS or HIV (human
immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS), with more than 3
million dying every year from AIDS-related illnesses.
And human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is also a serious,
though relatively new, concern. It's the leading cause of
cervical cancer and genital warts, affecting more than half of
sexually active people at some point in their lives - about 6.2
million each year.
What This Means to You
Whether kids are 2 (and asking about why brother looks different
in the bath) or 12 (and inquiring about tampons vs. pads), talking
about sexuality can be tricky and downright uncomfortable at times.
But it can take some of the stigma out of the "big talk"
if you don't wait to have it all in one big, potentially
Instead, try to establish an ongoing dialogue about sexual
development, decision-making, and values as children grow. This can
help kids feel far more prepared when they start experiencing some
new and often really confusing feelings and changes. Plus,
they'll feel a lot more comfortable coming to you if they have
any questions, no matter what they are.
Of course, lots of schools start sex education in the classroom
in the fifth or sixth grade, covering topics like anatomy,
abstinence, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs),
and pregnancy. But it's wise to begin the conversation long
before this, when kids may already be starting to go through some
of the emotional and physical changes of puberty.
Still, how and when
talk to your children about sex is a very personal decision. Here
are a few ways to keep the lines of communication open:
- Seize the opportunity to have natural, in-context
"teachable moments" from the get-go - like when
they're potty training, bathing, or expecting a new baby
brother or sister.
- Try to approach discussions about sexuality like you would
any other health topic - not as something dirty or embarrassing.
Treat sex as a normal part of the human experience.
- Answer questions as honestly as you can, keeping kids'
ages and maturity in mind. You can always start with less detail
and add more as they become more curious - but lying or avoiding
the tough questions can easily backfire. If you don't know
the answer, say you'll find out and report back or look up
the answer together.
- Give the facts, but also give them a sense of where you
stand. Explain your values and why you feel that way.
- If your kids are in sex-education classes in school, talk to
the teacher about ways to coordinate discussions at home with the
school's lesson plans.
- Help kids feel good about themselves by giving regular,
honest, positive praise, plus constant support and affection.
Kids with healthy self-esteem are less likely to give in to peer
pressure and will be better able to handle relationships.
Before kids and teens make that very adult decision to have sex,
they need to understand that it can come with many adult
consequences, too - chiefly, pregnancy and some potentially serious
No matter when you decide to broach the subject of sex, help your
kids comprehend how their decisions today really can have a
long-lasting effect on their lives now
far into the future.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2007
Source: "Births: Preliminary Data for 2006," CDC's
National Center for Health Statistics, December 2007.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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