The New Teen Age

How teens navigate this I-self world.

Birth Control Works!

But is it right for your daughter?

Good news from the National Center for Health Statistics: the pregnancy and abortion rates of women ages 20 to 24 have dropped substantially from 1990. Pregnancy rates for this demographic have fallen by 18% and abortions have declined by 32%. Similar studies found even more dramatic results in the teen population, with teen pregnancy rates down to its lowest rate in recorded history and abortion rates down 59% from twenty years prior.

The government report, released this week, indicated that these drops are largely due to effective birth control. Currently, there are dozens of safe and highly effective methods of contraception available to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Recent, more convenient methods of birth control, such as the patch and vaginal ring, remove the chore of having to remember to take a daily pill. For those who prefer a hormone-free alternative, there are also new and improved IUDs, such as ParaGard.

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From a societal perspective, most parents would agree that this is great news. However, for these same parents, that doesn’t always mean that they believe birth control is the right answer when it comes to their own daughters.

Even though birth control is highly effective in reducing unwanted pregnancy and abortion in teenagers, many parents struggle with providing birth control for their teen daughters. Some parents take a wait-and-see approach, deciding to put off the conversation until their daughters come to them directly to ask for contraception. Some parents are outright against birth control for ethical reasons, while others choose blissful avoidance altogether. Even though birth control is an individual decision that should be made with a physician, for teenagers, parents often need to get involved.

As a parent, if you are unsure whether you should broach the subject of birth control with your daughter, please consider the following:

Many parents (incorrectly) believe their child is not sexually active: There is a disconnect between where parents think their children are sexually and actual teenage behavior. A study from North Carolina State University found that most parents believe their teenage child is not yet interested in sex, but the average age of first intercourse is 17 years old. Even if a parent asks, teens often lie to their parents when it comes to discussing such personal topics.

Many girls wait until they are sexually active to start exploring their optionsThe CDC found that only 17% of 15-16 year-old girls were on birth control when they first had intercourse. As we know, it only takes one time to get pregnant, so it’s safer to begin birth control before becoming sexually active.

Sex often happens while intoxicated: Even for teenagers who have every intention of waiting to have sex, experimentation with alcohol can lead to those good intentions going out the window. A 2009 study found that almost a quarter of teens who had sex have done so while they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. People who have sex while intoxicated are much less likely to use condoms.

Date Rape: While it’s not something any of us like to think about, 44% of rape victims are under the age of 18. Many victims keep their attack a secret, during which time the window for successful emergency contraception closes. While it is crucial that we educate young people to reduce the number of perpetrators, birth control can at least safeguard against one of the potential devastating outcomes of rape.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Reproductive Health.

Kathryn Stamoulis, Ph.D., specializes in adolescent and sexual development.

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