Despite our best efforts, there is no way to completely prevent unwanted teen pregnancies.

Many people paint a picture of pregnant teens as being somehow irresponsible, or rather, “deserving their fate.” Remember that in many cases they are no more or less responsible than teens who don’t get pregnant; it may be simply a deficit of resources, methods, or plain luck.  Some teens do not use birth control when they are sexually active. Others may see birth control fail, either through “operator error” or because even the most effective birth control isn’t 100% effective. A young woman who chooses to abstain from sex is still at risk for sexual assault. In the saddest cases, a teen may have experienced sexual abuse since childhood, and is now simply old enough to conceive.

This post will will draw from prior ones to discuss pregnancy, STDs, and talking about sex. Remember: many unwanted teen pregnancies can be prevented by good communication, planning ahead, and/ or access to birth control.

You need to start talking to your kids about sex, early and often. This starts with the first time your child asks how babies are born, and really never ends. When your child is approaching the teen years, it’s vital that your talks start getting more serious. Whether or not you believe your teen should start having sex, there is the possibility that they might. A teen who adamantly denies a desire to be sexually active can change their mind. Let them know your values and expectations, and then let them know how to keep themselves safe if they do have sex. It’s the same logic behind the Free Phone Call; you don’t necessarily want your teen to engage in risky behaviors, but if they do, you want them to have a bailout plan to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences.

Birth control and STD prevention are not always synonymous. Teens should use condoms with each and every sexual encounter, to prevent contracting sexually transmitted infections, but condoms are not the most effective birth control out there. Dr. Evans has a great rundown of birth control methods (there are multiple parts to the series), and there is also a series of interviews with Dr. Amies Oelschlager in which she discusses the pros and cons of each method. She also discusses Plan B, which teens need to know is available. Make sure your teen knows how to acquire effective birth control, should they need it. Both male and female teens should be well-versed in birth control, so both can ask the right questions and feel comfortable in their knowledge when the topic arises.

If your teen does experience an unwanted pregnancy- or for a male teen, contributes to one- it doesn’t mean they have failed somehow, nor that you have. But it does mean that they now have a very big decision to make. It can be very hard not to start telling your teen what they should do, but try to listen a lot first. Encourage them to open up about how they feel, what they want, and what their questions are. No matter what course they choose, you can be a guide and invaluable source of support, love, and strength.