Raising Good Kids in Tough Times
By Dr. Roger McIntire
We parents know sex is a big problem among our teenagers but too many of us hesitate to provide much information. We are afraid of what the kids will do if we tell them too much, but we all suffer the consequences of their ignorance.
The percentage of women 15 to 20 who are sexually active is about the same across our country and in other countries. About 80 percent of women have sex before 20, 60 percent before 18 and less than 20 percent before 15. The same is true in Canada, Sweden, France, Great Britain and the United States, the Washington Post reported in a special May 16th Issue of their health section.
The differences come when you look beyond the sexual activity and consider the pregnancies, births and abortions they produce. In all of these categories the United States is at the top of the list. Twice as many pregnancies per 1,000 women age 15 to 19 as any other industrialized country. More abortions than any other country even on a per capita basis. Four times as many as France.
Our birth rate among teenagers has declined steadily from 1991 to 2002 but it is still the highest of all developed countries. The price is terrible. About 600,000 unmarried American girls will become pregnant this year.
While caring for the baby, only one third will receive a high school diploma; less than 2 percent will have a college degree by age 30. Later on, their baby boys will be 13 percent more likely to go to prison and their baby girls will be 22 percent more likely to become teen mothers themselves, according to Family First Aid.
Why are we failing so badly? I include all of us in the “we,” not just the girls and not just the boys. Our brief, sometimes totally absent, sex-ed curriculum ignores too many gaps of ignorance, creates too much unhappiness and too many failures among the child-momies and the babies they produce. Without any knowledge and without contraception, a sexually active girl has a 90 percent chance of pregnancy within a year and of course, a boy, usually not underage by the way, has a 90 percent chance of causing it.
Our silence is to blame. Out of embarrassment or misdirected morality, we support abstinence without getting into details. So we have created generations who are miserably ignorant about sex. Intelligent and “with it” as we think we are, we are embarrassed and intimidated when it comes to sex. “If we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen” is a label we put on sex, pregnancy, and even sexual diseases.
Like attentive sheep dogs, many hope to keep those in our care in line, frightened and huddled together. The dog has all the responsibility, the sheep have none. They just crowd together and hope the dog will go away.
The parent-as-sheep-dog comparison breaks down as parents turn their attention to other important matters. The sheep dog never turns HIS gaze from the flock. Parents don’t have this luxury and must teach responsibility to children who must eventually go it alone. That’s why we must risk the embarrassment and teach the details of sex education, the responsibilities and the consequences.
When one trapped and scared child-teen was told she had herpes, she said to her doctor, “How could this happen? We never actually did it. We just, you know, fooled around and, anyway, I always took one of Mom’s pills.”
Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. Write him through the Journal or go to http://www.ParentSuccess.com.