On a recent episode of The Good Wife, the mother character, Alica Florrick, found a history on her computer that showed that someone had been doing research of types of condoms. Her first suspicion was her teenage son Zack. She awkwardly approached him and came right out and told him what she had found. He denied doing the search and indicated his younger sister Grace also used the hard line computer. The next stop for mom was Grace's room. Even more awkwardly she asked Grace if there was anything she wanted to talk about, then asked about Grace's boyfriend and finally told Grace they needed to talk about sex. Grace had not searched the computer either.
This same scenario could have taken place in over 400,000 American homes this past year. According to the American Pregnancy Association over 450,000 babies are born to teenage mothers each year.
The statistic that is even more alarming is that 68 million individuals will contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD); of those 3,000,000 will be teenagers.
The life altering circumstances of an STD or unwanted pregnancy are too often, like in The Good Wife, awkward to talk about. Neither teens nor parents relish the moment that they will sit down and have an evidence-based discussion on the facts of teenage sexuality. Parents often take the attitude, "It [an STD or pregnancy] can't happen to my child" and too often the teens are shocked and dismayed by the facts[of contracting as STD or having an unwanted pregnancy] and the honest response is "I didn't know."
"In one week in April last year six teenage girls from YME came into our office concerned that they might be pregnant," Linda Norland, Deputy Administrator of Countryside Public Health, told a group of parents, community members and members of the clergy at a YME PTO meeting last Monday.
The girls were coming to Countryside to get pregnancy tests. "Since then we've had two fourteen year olds, several fifteen year olds, last week we had an eighth grader come in for the second time and next week we're scheduled to test a ninth grade girl," Norland explained.
The problems associated with teenage sexual activity are not limited to the big cities, or bad kids. The problems are right here in our backyard and our good kids are the ones seeking help.
Norland shared that the statistical data began to emerge in the Minnesota Survey several years back. By 2007, data from all areas in the five-county area served by Countryside Public Health clearly indicated there was an issue emerging that involved teenage sexual activity. She went on to explain that the results of the survey on what parents feel about providing information in the schools were similar to a survey of 1600 Minnesota parents completed in 2008. She shared the data with the Community Health Board who told her, "You need to do something about this."
Page 2 of 3 - In her desire to bring the issue to the communities Norland shared some hard facts with the YME PTO. The statistical information was extracted from the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey. The data was gathered from YME students in grades 9 and 12.
YME students were asked, "Have you ever had sexual intercourse?"
In 9th grade, 76 percent of the males answered no and 90% of the females answered no. However, by 12th grade the answers were different. Only 40% answered they had never had sexual intercourse while only 27 percent of the girls answered they had never had intercourse.
Of those students who indicated that they were sexually active the follow up question was asked, "How often do you or your partner use any method of birth control?"
In 9th grade 33 percent of the males answered that they never use any method of birth control. 100% of 9th grade girls answered they never use any method of birth control. By 12th grade only 10 percent of the males said they never use any method of birth control and 13 percent of the girls answered they never use any method of birth control.
The most common methods of birth control are medications and condoms. The medications effectively reduce the risk of pregnancy, but have no effect on transmitting sexual diseases and over 3,000,000 teens annually contract an STD.
"The fact is our teens are sexually active and they do not always use birth control or condoms to prevent unplanned pregnancy and disease," said Norland. Anticipating the question as to why more teens are becoming sexually active at a younger age Norland explained that we are all sexual beings and that kids are maturing earlier. In the 1800s, a woman's first menarche occurred at the average age of 18, by the 1960s the average age dropped to 14 years and now girls are maturing at age 12 and a half and boys at the age of 14.
She went on to share that the average age for marriage has risen from 18 to 25 years of age. "Our young people are at risk of unintended pregnancy and STDs for a longer period of time. It's just a fact."
"It would be great if we could be magic; we could delay our teens sexual activity." It is apparent from the statistics and the personal contacts that some YME teens are living with incorrect information and putting themselves at risk. "We need to know what they know," stated Norland.
Where do most YME teens receive information regarding sex?
The 2010 Minnesota Student Survey shows that 80% of YME students learn about sex from their friends, the second most influential learning group is parents and the third is mass media.
"It would be great if our kids got their knowledge from parents and their religious community. Many of the kids do, and that is great. What about the kids who don't have the support of a family or a religious community? What about them?" Norland queried.
Page 3 of 3 - "I'm not here to tell you what to do. I am here to tell you that we have an issue in this community. What do you want to do? Do you want to give the teens the tools they need to help reduce the risks of sexually active behavior?"
Norland went on to share one set of tools, an evidence-based curriculum designed for 6th, 7th and 8th graders called "Draw the Line – Respect the Line," and a companion curriculum, "It's That Easy," for parents.
She stated that she is aware that the Willmar School District already has an evidence-based curriculum in the school, but doesn't know much about it.
She explained that Countryside Public Heath is prepared to partner with YME, area churches, and community groups to provide evidence-based, age appropriate curriculum to help students in postponing sexual activity and when they decide to become sexually active, to consistently use protection.
"I'll go anywhere, anytime," she offered. "I wanted you to know there is an issue. You tell me what you want to do about it."