The Centers for Disease Control shared an update that the teen pregnancy rate dropped by 8%. This was exciting news, but teen births for young women ages 15-19 are still exceedingly high in our nation at 31 out of  1000. Unplanned pregnancy is not just an adolescent concern. It is estimated that nearly 50% of pregnancies in the US are unplanned, however for teens the consequences are often more life changing. A few of the consequences of becoming a teen parent include: being more likely to be poor, less likely to complete their education, and more likely to have daughters who become teen mothers and sons with a criminal record.

I think most experts would agree there is not a single solution to prevention, but instead multiple things that can be done to help prevent unintended pregnancies. For teens, this includes parental involvement, teaching about reproductive health (including the importance of empowering youth to say no to sex if they’re not ready), delaying sexual debut, practicing abstinence, using effective birth control if sexually active, and perhaps most importantly, teaching/role modeling healthy relationships.

One research group in Missouri offered over 9,000 women extremely effective and reliable birth control in the form of long acting reversible contraception including the intrauterine device or progesterone implant. These methods are over 99% effective and 100% reversible. They don’t require a woman to remember to take a pill or go in at regular medical visits for a shot so once they’re in place, they work for years without any effort. The study found that most women chose one of these methods when offered. The amazing conclusions from this study were that unplanned pregnancies dropped significantly and so did abortion rates. To see more on this project click here for the YouTube video.

Why am I mentioning this study to parents?

Many teens who seek out birth control only know about the pill or the shot. In fact, the birth control pill is the number one method of hormonal contraception used by teens. However, this method also has the highest failure rate. With perfect use, about 8 out of 100 teens will get pregnant in a year if using the pill (about a quarter of teens who use the pill will get pregnant in a year with typical use). Only a little over 20% of sexually active teens used contraception at all with their last sexual encounter (60% used a condom, but condoms are better at preventing infection than pregnancy). It’s exciting that our teen birth rates have dropped, but we can do better!

Here are a few tips for parents:

Start talking to your teen early about relationships. Role model healthy relationships starting in childhood.

Educate about sex. Include the pros (pleasure, intimacy, affection, desire) and cons (pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, strong emotions). Encourage your teen to be fully ready for all of these things before they embark on their sexual debut.

Discuss your family values. Talk about why you encourage abstinence until marriage or why you want your teen to wait until they’re ready.

Listen to your teen. They may have questions they’ve been embarrassed to ask, or worried about what you would think of their behavior. When having a discussion, remember that your teen as a point of view as well.

See a medical provider and ask about different forms of birth control. Both boys and girls need education about contraception. Some providers may not know that all options can be used safely in teens and the options are constantly being improved. If the provider isn’t comfortable, ask for a referral to a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist.

For previous blog posts on teen long acting reversible contraception check out the posts below:

More on birth control: long term options

More on birth control: long term options placement and removal

Ten tips for talking to your teen about sex