VNA: Talk to teens about sex

Today is National Teen Pregnancy Awareness Day

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A 2001 survey by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System indicated that 42.3 percent of Colorado teens have had sex.

In Moffat County, 3.4 percent of the babies born in 2000 were to mothers who were younger than 18.

"It is a problem here," said LaurieAnne Voit-Perry, a nurse practitioner at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association Craig office. "I do see a number of girls pregnant before the age of 20."

Public health workers don't classify the statistics as an epidemic but say there is cause for concern.

"We would like to see the complete elimination of teen pregnancy," said Jennifer Fritz, public information coordinator for the VNA.

Today is national Teen Pregnancy Awareness Day. The VNA, the area's sole provider of sliding scale services, is participating by encouraging teens to participate in a confidential online survey at www.teenpregnancy.org.

The survey asks teens how they would respond to certain situations that could lead to sexual activity or to pressure to have sex.

"Kids enjoyed the survey," Fritz said. "They said it made them think about certain situations and what they would do."

The survey includes a scenario about the advice they'd give others about sexual activity.

More than 300,000 teens took the survey last year, and 57 percent of those said the quiz made the consequences of sex more real to them.

The VNA is taking the lead in education about teen pregnancy because it is one of few sources in Northwest Colorado for family planning, birth control education and sliding scale services, Fritz said.

And there's a need.

Thirty-four percent of American girls are pregnant at least one time before they're 20, Fritz said, resulting in more than 820,000 teen pregnancies a year -- the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any industrialized nation.

"The more (sex is) talked about in all its forms, the easier it is to talk about it," Fritz said. "When only kids are educating kids, all the facts get messed up."

The VNA is encouraging parents to take the lead in talking to their teens about sex, sharing their philosophies and values and taking advantage of natural teaching opportunities.

"Don't wait for a question, seek teachable moments to share priorities and values," Voit-Perry said. "So much has to do with education -- not just in the schools, but at home."

She said people need to recognize that while abstinence may be the best choice, it isn't the only choice teens are going to make.

"If teens aren't making that choice, they need to know the consequences and protect themselves," she said.

A basic tenet of the national awareness campaign is that reducing the nation's rate of teen pregnancy is one of the most strategic and direct means available to improve overall child well-being and, in particular, to reduce persistent child poverty.

On average, Moffat County women make $6.35 an hour. A single woman with one child needs to make $15.37 an hour to meet living expenses, according to the 2002-03 Yampa Valley Partners Community Indicators Report.

"Becoming pregnant is the No. 1 thing that derails young ladies from education, which translates into careers and success," Fritz said.

Teen mothers are less likely to complete school and more likely to be single parents, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Less than one-third of teens who begin their families before age 18 ever earn a high school diploma. Only 1.5 percent earn a college degree by the age of 30.

Voit-Perry said many of the pregnant and sexually active teens she sees are dealing with self-esteem issues, which may lead them to sexual behavior.

She also said alcohol and drug use is a contributing factor to teen pregnancy. She estimates 50 percent of the teens she sees report being sexually active as a result of "partying."

According to the National Campaign, teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of other critical social issues as well -- welfare dependency, out-of-wedlock births, responsible fatherhood and workforce development in particular. The national campaign's efforts are based on the core idea that preventing teen pregnancy should be viewed not only as a reproductive health issue, but as one that works to improve all of these measures.

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, with offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs, provides family planning and health services including sexually transmitted disease and AIDS testing, birth control, including early contraception and nutritional counseling. All services are confidential and are provided on a sliding scale based on income.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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