QUIZ: Will Your Teen Daughter Get Pregnant?
'Will Your Teen Daughter Get Pregnant?'
The text that winged its way to my radio show was too depressingly familiar. In the abbreviated language of text there was a huge message, "dr pam, Im 14 + pregnnt. byfrnd nt want 2 kno. scared tell mum. wot can I do? Gemma"
Surprised? You shouldn't be! The sad fact is one in 25 of girls under 18 across the country are "Gemmas". This rises to the appalling figure of 10 percent in some inner city areas like Lambeth, London. Having an unwanted pregnancy is difficult enough for a fully-grown woman. But add feelings of utter fear, confusion and isolation, without the intellectual capacity to know how to cope, and you get the picture of what it's like to be a pregnant teen.
I'm deeply disturbed by the fact there are many factors we need to confront before teenagers stop having sex while too young. It may seem like finger-pointing but defining the underlying issues behind the problem is important. The next step is to take action as a parent for your own child.
When examining reasons behind teen pregnancy we must start in the heart of the home. At the family level there are obvious reasons like more broken homes, with a divorce rate over 40 per cent and rising. For cohabiting couples the breakdown rate is twice that. And even where parents are together, both often work meaning not enough parental involvement.
In my time at a London hospital researching parenting problems I witnessed how many parents lack basic parenting skills. Also this is the generation that grew up in the Seventies and Eighties where the pursuit of sexual and individual freedoms became the selfish defining feature of our generation. I firmly believe like a stone thrown in water this has had a ripple effect outwards on attitudes towards parenting, that parenting should suit the parents' needs and not the child's!
Turning to schools there's a massive problem with bullying and peer pressure, with much greater access to alcohol and drug in this generation. And at a general level we live in a quick-fix, instant society where we get what we want, when we want it. And that includes sex. With the general sexualisation of society many children see sex as a commodity with no-strings or consequences. Against this backdrop about 30 per cent of children struggle with emotional problems of some sort. What hope is there for them without parents, schools, or society-at-large protecting them?
From my experience of bringing two children through the fraught teen years I know it's a daily struggle to keep abreast of what they’re up to and protect them. To set curfews and collect them late on a wet Saturday night when actually you’d rather be curled in front of the telly. To insist they entertain boy/girlfriends downstairs when they're protesting their bedroom’s more comfortable. Yes, comfortable but not safe from pressure!
It’s every parent's duty to put aside their own needs to negotiate these difficult years so the tragedy of pregnancy doesn’t touch their child. It can feel like a battlefield particularly when you've previously enjoyed good relations in their younger years. You wonder what happened to your little angel but by definition part of being a teenager is testing rules and pulling away. I'm far from the perfect parent but thank goodness I managed to embrace my boundaries and protect my children from teen pregnancy.
You may feel you’re up against such a battle that you’ve washed your hands of your responsibility. I truly hope not. Or you've developed a long neck and are taking the ostrich approach, burying your embarrassment, and hoping your daughter’s getting contraceptive advice somewhere. She may have access to the morning-after pill, as one in five girls aged between 16 and 18 have used. Or she may be one of the 55,000 15 year-olds who’ve visited a clinic to get contraception. Even if she's a tender 13 or 14, 33,000 (this is more than one in 20) in this age group have also attended a contraception clinic.
So there’s a chance she's getting contraceptive advice. But don't breath a sigh of relief yet as there's the chance she won't use it, with a quarter of under-age girls saying they forgot to take their pills. Furthermore sources of advice other than yourself won't provide the love and guidance your daughter needs in making decisions about whether or not she should have sex.
As a parent with a daughter there's lots you can do. First, I challenge you to take my survey to stimulate some thought about your situation. If the results frighten you, and your daughter may be a candidate for pregnancy, then I implore you to take action.
THE ‘IS MY DAUGHTER LIKELY TO GET PREGNANT?’ SURVEY
1/ When she’s angry/upset how would you describe your daughter’s temper?
A. Difficult and touchy but not out of control
B. Out of control, child-like tantrums and/or worryingly aggressive or withdrawn
C. Her temper’s manageable
2/ How does your daughter handle curfews on nights out?
A. Occasionally she’s later than she should be
B. We have lots of problems with her not coming back on time
C. We collect her, or arrange for another parent to, so she's on time
3/ How hard it is it to make ends meet in your household?
A. It can be hard at times
B. Very hard, we never manage to make ends meet
C. We don't have any financial worries
4/ Has your daughter ever played truant?
5/ Select the nearest to your family situation:
A. Two parents in household - both working
B. Single parent
C. Two parents in household - one working
6/ Has your daughter ever been bullied?
A. Yes but we sorted it out
B. Yes but it hasn't been sorted it out
7/ How much "quality" time do you spend together?
A. We spend occasional time together
B. Rarely/never spend time together
C. We have regular meals and/or leisure time together
8/ Does your daughter have interests/hobbies, belong to clubs and/or do sport?
A. She has some interests
B. No she's never been interested in much except seeing her friends
C. Yes she has strong interests
9/ At what age did your daughter become interested in boys other than as childhood friends?
A. 12-14 years
B. 9-11 years
C. 15+ years
10/ How would you describe your own self-esteem?
A. About average - up and down
B. Low or very low
C. Very good, positive
11/ What is your daughter’s crowd like?
A. Average teenagers
B. Troublemakers/a bit dodgy
C. Pleasant, bright, interesting
12/ Which best expresses your daughter’s experiences of drink, drugs, and smoking?
A. She drinks at parties/out with friends, not sure about drug use. May have tried cigarettes.
B. I don't know what she gets up to, or she definitely gets drunk and/or has taken drugs, likely to smoke.
C. Very little outside of the family context where we have alcohol in moderation; she only goes to well-supervised parties.
13/ Select the choice that best matches your daughter's personality:
A. A typical teenager with some ups and downs
B. Difficult, and/or depressed, and/or has low self-esteem
C. Settled, confident, on the whole a pleasure
14/ How much contact do you/will you allow with boys?
A. She's allowed a boyfriend but we try to discourage her getting serious
B. She does what she wants
C. She’s allowed a boyfriend but we’re strict about them not spending time on their own
15/ Have you discussed relationships and sex with her?
A. Have tried to raise it with her but it's not easy
B. Too embarrassed and/or leave it to the school
C. Definitely use any opportunity to discuss important issues like this regularly
Mostly As - Moderate risk of pregnancy
You care for your daughter but I'd guess embarrassment and anxiety stop you having strong communication with her and setting real boundaries. Parental embarrassment can lead to teenage pregnancy! It's important you:
ü Start getting to know her better now. Take time to know where she's going and who she'll be with.
ü Don't feel embarrassed to get to know her friends' parents so you can compare notes with them.
ü Ensure she stays involved with at least one strong hobby, sport or after-school club.
ü Checkout the advice below for other tips.
ü Mostly Bs - High risk of pregnancy
It seems your daughter’s out of control. She may feel she has no guidance or real relationship with you - scary stuff. Teenage girls without guidance or direction, and with low self-esteem, are most likely to get pregnant. The good news is you can reclaim the situation! Right now do these:
ü Build your own belief you can make a difference in your daughter's life - that means building your confidence to know what's right or wrong for her. Decide from today you're going to try your best to protect your daughter from pregnancy. When feeling weak, remind yourself you can do it.
ü Change negative beliefs that, e.g., she's too "impossible" to change. Look for her good qualities and praise her whenever possible.
ü If you have a partner enlist their help. Working as a team bolsters each other when she gives you a hard time.
ü Even if you're working and tired, sit down and simply "be" with her daily for at least 5 minutes. Don’t talk about chores, etc., but about her day. It’ll take time to establish the fact you’re there for her, not just to argue with.
ü Get her involved in a hobby or interest to start boosting her self-esteem. She may want to do, e.g., dance or learn to MC, but keep encouraging any interest she shows. Research shows that teenagers with strong interests have sex much later.
ü Stop arguing with her and start listening. At this point you probably both expect a row with any issue. Show her you’re changing and will sit back and listen and then put your point of view calmly.
ü Set boundaries and stick to them. If she comes in after curfew, decrease pocket money or ban TV or other privileges. Show you mean what you say.
ü Use story-lines in soap operas, etc., to bring up how to conduct relationships and be in control when it comes to sex.
ü Talk to her school about your worries so you can work together. Find out about the lessons they provide on sex ed., relationships, and self-esteem.
ü If you can’t get through to her give her the teen websites below where she can find help for it anything troubling her and get information.
ü What ever you do - never give up on her!
Mostly Cs - Low risk of pregnancy
You’re doing well keeping lines of the communication open and knowing about her life. Girls are least likely to get pregnant when they feel their family cares what they get up to, have emotional support so they feel confident, and are encouraged to develop their whole personality. Well done! Keep doing the things you’re doing and also:
ü Be prepared for the unexpected. Even the happiest teenager can end up being bullied or reacting badly to a trauma, e.g., a family bereavement. If your daughter’s feeling vulnerable at such a time and the wrong boy puts pressure on her, she could end up having unplanned sex.
ü Give her loads of praise and encouragement. It's easy when things are coasting along nicely to take your children for granted.
Calling all parents with sons! Let's not let the boys off the hook. Ensure they’re responsible by:
- Encouraging an attitude of respect to young women.
- Let them know they’re responsible for condom-use if they get into a sexual relationship.
- Discourage them having girls around in their bedrooms for unsupervised periods.
- Boys have feelings too - don't discourage them from sharing their ups and downs. A closer relationship with you and they’ll be less likely to get in trouble.
- Know where they're going and who they're going with.
For your teenager: www.ruthinking.co.uk; www.thesite.org
Published in the Express Newspaper