prego teen on floorTeen pregnancy rates have declined in the US over the past few years, however they continue to be higher than other industrialized nations. We’ve blogged about teen pregnancy before, and my co-author posted an entire series on the topic, but a journal article published online this week has prompted me to write about teen pregnancy today.  With the staggering statistic of nearly 1,000 teens giving birth each day in the US, I think it’s worth mentioning again.

A study was published this week in JAMA Pediatrics that looked at an intervention administered over 18 months to reduce teen pregnancy that empowered and educated. This study included teen girls ages 13-17 years who were sexually active. They provided a case manager who established a trusting relationship with the teens and taught responsible sexual practices (i.e. condom and birth control use) as well as positive family and school connectedness. The teens also participated in youth leadership groups and peer education.

The effects of this intervention were huge. The teens were more likely to consistently use condoms and birth control with sexual partners and they were also more likely to refuse unwanted sex. The intervention was also associated with increased family connectedness.

To me, these findings show that we can continue to decrease our high teen pregnancy rates. While the majority of teens won’t have a nearly 2 year intervention involving a case manager and leadership groups, most do have loving parents or trusted adults who can communicate with them about the topics in this intervention. Families do impact teen behavior and parents can help their teens make healthy decisions about sexuality. Here are some tips on how parents can influence behavior:

  1. Model healthy relationships and let them know that it’s absolutely okay to say ‘no.’
  2. Communicate. Talk about your expectations of their behavior and your family’s values. Your teen listens to you (even if it doesn’t seem like it). Teens who have parents that communicate with them about family values and sex are more likely to wait to start having sex. This delay in sexual debut means teens are more mature and more likely to have safe sexual practices!
  3. Discuss consequences. These include the obvious consequences of sex like unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, but also talk about the emotional consequences of a sexual relationship. Include the topic of substance use and sex as well. Teens who are intoxicated or high are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
  4. Educate about birth control, condoms, and sexually transmitted infections. Talk with your teen about contraceptive options and sexually transmitted infections. Be sure you have your facts correct before talking with them though. If you’re not sure of an answer to a question, let them know you don’t know the answer, but can look it up together or speak with your teen’s primary care provider about it.

For more on this study and other ideas on preventing teen pregnancy see the feature in On the Pulse by Seattle Children’s Hospital.