Parents must act to keep babies from having babies

May 04, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

TOMORROW is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Day, as if all it takes to prevent our babies from having babies is a little extra attention from grown-ups one day a year.

Any parent worth his or her stripes knows that sex education and the conveyance of sexual values is a lifelong conversation with children that should begin at the changing table.

But it is the most awkward and difficult conversation we have with our kids and, quite frankly, most of us don't do it very well.

Imagine how grateful we would be if the clock actually ran out on "The Talk" tomorrow at midnight, and we could go back to arguing with our kids about the state of the bathroom and whose turn it is to load the dishwasher this week.

Well, I am here to turn up the heat on parents because I believe preventing teen pregnancy requires more than just one day a year. And more than just talk.

It requires parents to act.

Most of us agree that teen-agers should not have sex, regardless of the depth of their feelings for each other or their precocious maturity.

They are too young for sex, and we can give them 100 reasons why.

But parents must be ready to act the moment they sense that this message to wait is being ignored, and too many of us are not.

The irony is that we tell our children, "Look, at some point, or at some party, you will find yourself at a sexual crossroads, and you need to have thought about what you will do."

It is very good advice we do not take ourselves.

At some point we will know or we will sense that our children are teetering on the brink of sexual initiation, and we need to have thought about what we will do.

And we have to have the guts to do it.

Whether it is a trip to the family doctor for birth control, or a trip to the drugstore for condoms or a trip to the locksmith or a trip to the convent school, we have to have the courage to act.

We can not simply deliver our advice and retreat to the sidelines and hope everything turns out as we would like.

This does not mean that we start issuing birth control pills the minute a boy calls the house more than once, but it does require of parents a special attentiveness.

That's because it is a harsh fact of our hyper-sexualized culture that we probably won't know what that first sexual partner looks like, and we may have to rely on the hair on the back of our necks.

The orderly sequence of courtship we once knew no longer exists for many teens. Sex has become, for some, a box to be checked, not the culmination of a long-term love relationship.

Remember just getting to first base? Well, there are no bases anymore. Not for teens who engage in oral sex to preserve some bizarre notion of virginity.

This is all very hard for parents to face.

We know how children feel about the idea of their parents having sex, but the truth is, parents feel the same way about their kids having sex: We don't want to think about it.

But we are the grown-ups, and we have to think about it.

And we have to be ready to do something about it because teen-agers are notorious for denying - to their parents, but especially to themselves - that sex is on the horizon.

We can keep talking - and we should. We can say that protection is not permission; that they are too young and too vulnerable for the complexities of sex.

But at some point - probably sooner than we thought possible - talk will not be enough, and we will have to do what parents must.

Protect our children.

Both parties can't simply hope that this will all work out OK.

One of us has to do something to make sure it does.

Online at www.teenpreg, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy quiz can help teen-agers think about how they would respond in a variety of sexual situations, with advice not from adults, but from other teen-agers. There are no right answers - it is just an opportunity for teen-agers to stop in the midst of their busy lives. And think.

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