How To Talk to Your Teen About Teenage Pregnancy

Ideally, finding out that you are pregnant is an experience enjoyed by parents who are mature and ready to nurture a growing child. Unfortunately, many first time parents are still in their teenage years and are in no way prepared for the pressures and responsibilities of parenthood. Teenage pregnancy is rarely a happy experience--it forces the prospective young parents to make some difficult decisions about their futures and the future of their unborn child. It is important for parents of teenagers to discuss teenage pregnancy with their children, but some people have a hard time doing so. Here are a few tips for talking to your teen about teenage pregnancy:

  1. Start young. Begin talking to your children about sex long before they become sexually active. Very young children need to be given accurate information about their body parts and as they grow, they need to know that all of their questions will be answered. Children quickly sense if certain topics are "off limits," and will soon stop asking questions. Although this may be more comfortable for some parents, it begins a dangerous pattern of distancing parents and children in terms of open communication. Try your best to overcome your personal reservations when it comes to talking to your kids about sex:  An uninformed child is at an increased risk of becoming a teenage parent.
  2. Put yourself in their shoes. Teenagers, by their very nature, tend to resent parental interference. It is often easier to approach difficult subjects like sexuality by using outside examples as starting points for conversations. When watching a movie that features a pregnant teenager, take the opportunity to discuss the difficulties that the character faces. If your family knows someone who was a teenage parent, talk about the choices that she had to make and the consequences she endured by becoming a parent before she was grown. Since teenagers are very unlikely to be comfortable discussing their own sexuality with you (and they most certainly do not want or need details about your sex life), it can be helpful to cite outside examples to get a conversation started.
  3. Teenage pregnancy is about more than just babies. Babies are cute, cuddly, and everyone loves them. Too often, teenagers harbor starry-eyed fantasies about caring for a beautiful, smiling baby. They need to be aware that babies require constant care, are very expensive, cry often, and can be exhausting. Be sure to paint a realistic picture of both the joys and difficulties of parenthood for your teenager. Teens who have accurate ideas about the responsibilities that face parents will be more likely to avoid becoming pregnant before they are ready.
  4. Express your values. It is important that your teenager understands your moral values, but be aware that ultimately, each person must make her own choices. It is certainly acceptable to advocate abstinence, but your teen may not honor your wishes. Try to listen to your teenager without passing judgment.
  5. Give them reasons to wait. When discussing sex with your teen, be sure to cover more than just the physical aspects. Talk about love, self-respect, respect for a partner, emotional maturity, and relationships. Teens who are confident in themselves are more able to postpone becoming sexually active until they are ready for the possible consequences.
  6. Talk about their health. Sexually active teenagers are not only at risk for an unplanned pregnancy, they are also at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Discuss the risks honestly with your teen and offer advice on safe (or at least safer) sex. Be sure to stress that although some forms of sexual expression may not be able to result in pregnancy, they will still put your teen at risk for an STD.
  7. See the doctor. When you schedule your teenager's check-up, ask your doctor to talk about sex, pregnancy and STDs with your teen. If your teenager has established a trusting relationship with the doctor, she may be open to advice and suggestions from her. Additionally, it may be easier for your teen to discuss her personal situation with the doctor than with you.
  8. Healthy babies. According to the March of Dimes, teenage mothers are more likely to deliver premature babies than mothers over 20. Additionally, even when born full-term, teenage mothers give birth to low birthweight babies more often than their older counterparts. Both premature and low birthweight babies are at higher risk for health problems. Be sure that your teenager is aware that by waiting, her chance of having healthy children increases.
  9. Healthy moms. On their website (see link), the March of Dimes states that teenage mothers are at an increased risk of experiencing pregnancy complications such as anemia or high blood pressure. In adult mothers, those risks decrease. Additionally, according to TeenPregnancy, "Later in life, adolescent mothers tend to be at greater risk for obesity and hypertension than women who were not teenagers when they had their first child."
  10. Hard choices. When a pregnancy is unplanned, the young parents are faced with some very difficult decisions. Will they continue the pregnancy? If they choose to continue the pregnancy, will they keep the baby or give it up for adoption? If they hope to keep the baby, how will they manage to support themselves? It is important for teenagers to consider these things before they become sexually active. Be sure to open up conversations about the difficult decisions that face young parents with your son or daughter.
  11. Education and future earning potential. Teenagers who become pregnant are less likely to complete college (and sometimes even high school) than those who do not. This lack of education has a detrimental effect on earning potential, setting the teenage parents on a path of lifelong poverty. Stress to your teens the importance of delaying parenthood until they have completed their education.
  12. Offer support. Despite your best efforts, you may still find yourself in the position of facing your teenager's unplanned pregnancy. If so, try to offer emotional support and guidance, but encourage your teen to make the important decisions on her own. No matter what is decided, your teenager will be going through an emotional and difficult time--assure her that your love for her remains as strong as ever.

 

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