Lisa Meade and her mother sat down a little awkwardly over nachos last week and agreed to sign an unusual contract.
They promised to talk as openly as possible about a subject that's often taboo. Sex.
"A lot of kids, you know, whisper and stuff about it at school," Lisa confessed shyly.
The eighth-grader at George Fox Middle School in Pasadena said she feels pretty comfortable asking her mother questions about sex. They have a close relationship, fostered by her mother, who remembers feeling like she had nowhere to turn during her own adolescence.
"My mother died when I was 14," Susan Meade, 33, recalled. "I never even had a chance to bring up the subject. I ended up talking to friends instead."
Small wonder then that Meade joined the majority of parents on one side of the middle school cafeteria during a forum on preventing teen pregnancy last Tuesday.
When Nancy Hudson, a health educator with the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy, asked parents to choose sides based on where they got information about dating and sex, nearly all clustered in the corner designated "from peers."
A scattered handful chose "books, magazines and media." Only five parents stood in the corner marked "from parents."
"Look at this," Hudson exclaimed. "In 20 years, if you went to a PTA meeting, would this ratio be any different? And do you want it to be different?"
The 130 parents and pre-teens who attended the forum sponsored by the George Fox PTA nodded their heads in unison. All seemed to agree that parents should learn to talk openly with their children about sexuality.
"We're really trying to promote communication," Hudson said, though she admitted "it's not so easy" because sex usually is "a red-faced issue."
As soon as she arrived at the PTA meeting, Hudson tacked up posters from Campaign for Our Children warning, "Talk Your Baby out of Having One," and "Silence Breeds Babies." Hudson also distributed the parent-teen communication contract and a pamphlet cautioning that "the worst advice you can give a teen-ager about sex" is none.
Although Anne Arundel's teen pregnancy rate dropped by 11 percent between 1985 and 1988, parents and youth advocates still are worried. They point out that the 547 teen-agers who had babies in 1988 is 547 too many.
State officials don't have more recent statistics because a new system of recording birth certificates has caused delays.
Carlene Hillman, president of the George Fox PTA, arranged last week's forum after a school counselor mentioned that a number of pupils complained about being pressured to have sex.
"I was very surprised," Hillman acknowledged. "I couldn't believe kids this young were being pushed into having sex. I thought something should be done."
Hillman not only arranged for a speaker but also persuaded the school administration to hand out free homework passes to pupils interested in attending. The lure of escaping homework for a night appeared to pay off, as parents and youths jammed the cafeteria.
"I want to learn more about talking about this because my mother never did," said Debbie Meeker, who came with her 12-year-old daughter, Kelly.
Another mother, Brenda Foster, chimed in: "When I was younger, I couldn't talk to my mother about anything. I want to be different."
Hudson gave some tips on approaching the uncomfortable subject. She urged parents to relax, keep answers simple and pick the right time to talk.
"You don't have to answer a question right in front of grandma and grandpa at Thanksgiving dinner," she said.
But she encouraged parents to broach the topic in an appropriate setting to avoid letting their children grow up armed only with information from school rumors or music videos.
The need for more communication and more education was illustrated by the results of a brief test. When asked whether a girl can become pregnant before she gets her first period, the majority of parents and pupils answered no. But the correct answer, Hudson said, is yes.
"I think we need a lot more nights like this," said Jane Moberg, a sixth-grade science teacher at George Fox.
Since children are growing up in an increasingly fast-paced world, Moberg said she thinks they should learn about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases as soon as possible.
"Television, radio, advertisements -- everything is saying, 'Grow up fast,' " she said. "They need the information so they don't wind up facing an unwanted pregnancy or an abortion."