Forum on teen-age sexuality sounds a warning

February 10, 2003

Students and parents filled Centennial High School's media center Thursday night for a discussion of "Teenage Dating and Sexuality." The forum was sponsored by HC DrugFree, a coalition of parents, schools and county agencies.

The forum delivered a warning: Howard County kids are having unprotected sex and getting pregnant, said Kathy Siltanen, charge nurse at the county Health Department's Teen Clinics. "Emergency contraception - that's a booming business," she said.

"Every time I pick up the paper, I read that teen pregnancy is down, which astounds me because I'm busier than ever," Siltanen said. "You can tell when school is out - the [clinic] door opens, and in they come." She also said that many Howard teens are contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

She said later, "We get kids from every high school, every socioeconomic group, from private schools from Catholic schools. Just a total cross-section of Howard County kids."

Howard has the lowest teen birthrate in Maryland "not because we're doing anything different," Siltanen said. In a wealthy county such as Howard, young people have the resources to end an unwanted pregnancy, she said.

"Everybody has this attitude of `not my kid, not my county,'" said Laura Smit, the coordinator for HC DrugFree and the Coalition for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, who organized the event. "I think kids also feel powerless going against the mainstream media, which is sexualizing everything. And that's where the silence of the parents [comes in] - if you don't say anything, then you're letting the media teach your kids."

Parents at the forum asked what they should say to their children.

The advice focused on being clear about values, talking early and often with children, and being an active presence in their lives.

Don't be afraid to say what you feel, said Anne Anderson Sawyer, instructor in Human Sexuality and Women's Health at Howard Community College and a volunteer with the Coalition for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.

Perhaps scariest of all to many parents was the idea that some kids are divorcing the act of sex from love and relationship. "Oral sex is so big [now]. They don't consider it sex, they really don't," Smit said later.

The Columbia Teen Clinic (410-313-7500) is open on the first and fourth Wednesdays of each month at 10630 Little Patuxent Parkway. The Teen Clinic in Savage (410-880-5888) is open on the third Wednesday of the month. Walk-in service is available from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The forum, which also included speakers from the Sexual Trauma Treatment Advocacy & Recovery Center (410-997-3292) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (410-290-8292) was part of HC DrugFree's "Issues in Parenting" speaker series. Information: 410-799-4879.

@SUBHEDMount Hebron boosters plan Mardi Gras event

Mount Hebron High School's Viking Backers will sponsor a Mardi Gras bull roast and silent auction from 7:30 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville.

Tickets to the event are $45 and include a Mardi Gras-theme dinner, a silent auction, games and dancing. Proceeds will support school activities. Tickets may be purchased from Tim McGowan, 410-465-5559, or from any member of the Viking Backers board.

Items are needed for the silent auction. Information: Leda Weber, 410-461-4821.

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