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Educating to prevent teen pregnancy

Talking to their teens about sex is awkward for most parents, so three local agencies are joining to make the conversation a little easier.

Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Department of Public Health are attacking the problem of teen pregnancy by partnering with Plan Parenthood of Illinois to teach parents how to talk to their kids.

As part of the teen pregnancy prevention initiative, Plan Parenthood of Illinois will be hiring a parent to work with schools to help educate other parents.

“His or her soul purpose will be to educate parents on teen pregnancy prevention, the importance of sex education and on the importance of adolescents having access to specific services,” said Jaime Dircksen, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois said it hasn’t worked out details of the program yet, nor set a date for hiring a parent educator. Chicago Public Schools and the public health department couldn’t add details. However, hints of what the program might be like can be found in a similar program that Minnesota created.

“It’s That Easy,” developed by Teenwise Minnesota in collaboration with the Ramsey County Department of Public Health, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and a variety of other health organizations, has hired parent educators to support parents in their role as sex educators.

The Minnesota program gives the parent educators tools and techniques for teaching parents in groups or one-on-one. Among the things it covers are individual and cultural values, morals and beliefs, child and adolescent growth and the influence of media and popular culture.

For now Planned Parenthood has a website with information for parents on teen sexuality and guidance on how to talk to teens.

“We highly encourage healthy parent-teen communication,” said Lara Phillips, a spokeswoman at Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

The partnership between these organizations is part of a collaborative effort developed by the department of public health and the schools under a $19.7 million grant from President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. CPS was one of four school districts in the nation to be funded and received one of the largest grants.

“One of the sole purposes of [the federal Office of Adolescent Health] is to provide funds to local jurisdictions to prevent teen pregnancy by using evidence-based intervention,” Dircksen said.

CPS said that the initiative, entitled “Family Life Comprehensive Sexual Education,” will require students in grades 5-12 to receive sex education, covering topics including human development, puberty, STI / HIV, decision-making, delay tactics, relationships and respecting self and others. The initiative will operate in 28 of the city’s neighborhoods that have high teen birth rates.

“Our goal is always to remove the stigma associated with these important health issues and deliver information to students in a way that is meaningful to them,” said Blair Harvey-Gintoft, director of physical health at CPS.

Tilaya Hollands, director of Jane Hull House Association’s homeless youth support program, Emerge, said that youth need more than education to prevent teen pregnancy, they need hope.

“Most of them seem to have an adequate amount of education about preventing pregnancy, but what we found is that most of them don’t trust their options for birth control,” Hollands said.

“If one young lady had a problem with birth control, the word gets around and then they don’t trust that.”

Many of the young women Hollands comes in contact with come from abusive and traumatic situations, so they feel they have little to live for and don’t see themselves living past the age of 30.

The Minnesota program teaches parent educators specific tools and techniques needed to teach their peers how to talk to their kids about sex in the media, puberty and self-esteem.

Hollands said she thinks that self-esteem is a key ingredient parents and guardians need to instill to prevent teen pregnancy.

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