Teen pregnancy can carry long-term health, economic, and social costs for mothers and their children.
The good news: Teen births in the U.S. have declined, but still more than 273,000 infants were born to teens ages 15 to 19 in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC).
Even more good news: CDC data shows that more teens are waiting to have sex, and for sexually active teens, nearly 90% used birth control the last time they had sex.
It’s vital for parents to take action to prevent teen pregnancy.
Here’s 10 tips for parents from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy:
1. Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes. It will be much easier for you to talk with your child if you have thought through these questions:
- How do you feel about school aged teens being sexually active? Becoming parents?
- Who needs to set the sexual limits in a relationship? How is this done?
- Were you sexually active as a teen? How do you feel about that now? Were you sexually active before you were married? How do the answers to these questions affect what you will say to your children?
2. Talk with your children early and often about sex and love.
Be specific. The most important thing you can do is to say the first few words. Be honest and open. Listen carefully to find out what your child already understands. Make your conversations back and forth—two ways. Talking with your children about sex will not encourage them to become sexually active.
3. Supervise and monitor your children’s activities.
Know where your children are at all times. Are they safe? What are they doing? Are they involved in useful activities? If they aren’t with you, are responsible adults supervising them? You may be accused of being too snoopy, but you can help your children understand that parents who care know where their kids are.
4. Know your children’s friends and their families.
Since peers have a strong influence on teens, do your best to help your children choose friends from families with similar values. Welcome your children’s friends into your home, and talk with them regularly. Talk with their parents about curfews, common rules and expectations.
5. Discourage early, frequent and steady dating.
Encourage group activities. Long before your child asks you if he or she can date a certain person, make it clear that one-on-one dating before 16 can lead to trouble. Letting your children know ahead of time will help them see that you are not reacting to a particular person or invitation.
6. Take a strong stand against teens dating people who are significantly older or younger than they are.
Try setting a limit of no more than a 2 – year age difference. Power differences can lead into risky situations—including unwanted and unprotected sex.
7. Help your teens have options for the future that are much more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood.
Help them set real, meaningful goals for their future. Talk with them about what they will need to do to reach their goals, and help them reach these goals. Help them see how becoming a parent can derail the best of plans. For example, child care expenses can make it almost impossible to afford college.
8. Emphasize how much you value education.
Set high expectations for your child’s school performance. If your child is not progressing well in school, intervene early. School failure is one of the key risk factors for teen parenthood. Keep track of your children’s grades and meet with teachers. Volunteer at school if you can. Limit teen’s after-school jobs to no more than 20 hours per week, so there is ample time for homework—and enough time left over for restful sleep and socializing.
9. Know what your kids are watching, reading and listening to.
Messages about sex sent by the media (TV, radio, movies, music videos, magazines, the Internet) are almost certainly at odds with your values. Be “media literate” about what you and your family are watching and reading. Teach your children to think critically; talk with them about what they are learning from the programs they watch and the music they listen to.
10. Strive for a relationship that is warm and affectionate—firm in discipline and rich in communication.
Emphasize mutual trust and respect. Express your love, affection and appreciation clearly and often. Hug your kids and tell them how much you love them every day.
(Photo credit: NBC News)