By Dr. Angela Banner Joseph

“It’s about time we make the well-being of our young people more important than ideology and politics. As a country, we benefit from investing in their future by investing in pregnancy prevention” – Jane Fonda

Globally, the discussion of teen pregnancy is increasing and the debate is rampant on whether to provide free condoms in schools, whether to teach abstinence-only sex education, or whether to ask parents about teaching sex education in school. What all of these things have in common is that children should not be having children.

Teen pregnancy is a family’s greatest nightmare and can lead to a national public health crisis of young mothers. What we have learned is that teen-age pregnancy is associated with increases in single parenthood, poverty, unhealthy babies, juvenile delinquency, developmental delays in children, increased school dropouts, reductions in attaining a college degree, increased incarceration, and a dismal future. Society has shown that children of teen-age mothers are more likely to become teen parents themselves. Teen pregnancy is both a cause and a consequence of a host of social ills.

People often believe that teenage pregnancy occurred because of irresponsible behavior, misinformation, or “I didn’t believe getting pregnant would happen to me.” What many teenagers don’t understand is that being a parent is a full-time job; 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. You cannot turn a switch on and off, of when to be a parent, and you cannot send your child back when you want to go partying with your friends. Once you give birth, that baby is here to stay: A permanent fixture in your life and always at your side.

Some say that young girls are getting pregnant on purpose to keep a boyfriend or to prove their love to a boy. Young ladies, a boy will wait to have sex with you if he loves you. In a few cases, girls form a pact to get pregnant so that they can raise their children together, which is absolutely nonsense. Teenagers are not emotionally ready to become parents. How do we counsel teenagers about sex? How do we teach girls not to succumb to peer pressure to prove their love to someone?

Some teenagers use having sex or having a baby as a source of identity and status within a community. That is one trophy that I would not want as a teenager, especially when I have to look at the financial and emotional cost to raise a child. How can a teenager support a child with no education and no employable skills? Having no employable skills reduces your earning potential. Although a few teenagers fulfill their aspiration to attend and graduate from school after a pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, not every person is mature enough to take on such responsibility.

Parents, you are the first and most important person to educate your child about sexuality and about the social and economic consequences of teenage pregnancy. Some parents are afraid or embarrassed to talk to their children about sensitive issues such as sex and human relationships. If you are embarrassed, how can you expect your child to ask questions? Think about how embarrassed your child is. As a result, many young people are not aware of or are ignorant about their reproductive functions.

Teen pregnancy problems will not be solved overnight. Yes, we need family planning services and sex education classes, but we must provide our children with basic education and employment, as well as positive and successful role models in order to prepare them for a realistic future.

Teenagers need adult supervision and support rather than lectures about sexuality. Such support should be age-appropriate and should begin with pre-teens. Young people want us to spend time with them and listen to them. Children want us to explain why pre-marital sex is not the best option for them until they are mature and can handle parenthood. Similarly, teens want us to show them in our daily lives about healthy relationships, because they are influenced by what you do as well as what you say.

Parents of teenagers can help prevent teen pregnancy by communicating the pros and cons of pregnancy and providing guidance to their children about sexuality, contraception, and the risks and responsibilities of sexuality and pregnancy. It is critically important for parents and teens to talk about these issues and know the facts.

I could write so much more on this topic, but I will close by saying that teenagers should enjoy their youth and refrain from pre-marital sex because of the long-term consequences and the impact having a child would have on their future. Teenagers have not done enough living to be having children.

Dr. Angela Banner Joseph holds a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and Change from the Fielding Graduate University

The Guardian