By RENEE FITE
Empowering teens is one way to help reduce the epidemic of teen pregnancy.
When teens understand they have choices beyond high school they make better decisions when it comes to sex.
Parents who talk to their children before they become pre-teens and teens, establishing a relationship of communication and understanding, seem to be a major factor in the success of a youth making good choices.
During a meeting of the Cherokee County Teen Pregnancy Task Force Thursday night, participants continued to identify issues related to teen pregnancy in Cherokee County, such as how to empower parents to have confidence in helping their teens cope with the pressures of being a teen, saying “no” to sex and peer pressure and helping them set and keep personal boundaries and goals.
A lack of parental involvement has been identified as one difficulty for teens, and youth, which often results in grandparents raising children. Recognizing the extent of substance abuse by parents and peers is another factor, along with teens being bullied or involved in controlling relationships.
Those attending the meeting came together is search of solutions, options, and opportunities to make a difference in the lives of teens today and in the future.
“It’s a lot of stress and energy to raise a grandchild or great-grandchild, and it effects it whole community,” said Wauneta Duvall, “I see a lot of people doing that.”
There are some parents today who do talk to and listen to their children. Rebekah Craig, a community nurse, is one. When her 11-year-old son came home from school asking what chlamydia was, she asked him where he heard the word. In the hall at school, he told her.
“It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have on a Tuesday night,” she said, “but it was a teachable moment. So we talked about it.”
She asked him what he knew and told him clinical facts and asked questions to be sure he understood.
Not everyone has the medical or science background of a nurse, but most people have a computer and access to information.
“If you don’t know, tell them you don’t, then go look it up together,” said Tish Stallings, preventionist with Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health and coordinator for the task force.
“My mom didn’t tell me anything [about sex] and her mom didn’t tell her anything,” said Barbara Williams, also a preventionist with Cherokee Nation Behavorial Health.
Williams is known by many students as the “sex lady” for her education programs in the community. She has been teaching teens to respect themselves and each other for three decades.
“Straight Talk” is a three- to four-hour program Williams teaches to mothers and daughters, or grandmothers and granddaughters. There is also a program for boys and men, and both programs are available evenings and weekends by calling Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health.
“We talk to them separately, then together. We ask mothers what they want their daughters to know about sex and ask daughters what they want to know about sex,” Williams said. “Their answers are very different. You find out how much you know about your child.”
The girls ask technical questions, said Stallings, who has helped Williams with the programs.
Shana Davis said she had sex education from her science teacher, who was also a coach who taught, “the facts, not how to.”
Her graduating class of 35 had about 17 pregnant teens by the summer. Davis had determined she was not going to be one of the 36-year-old grandparents she saw growing up and set a goal of leaving the county and going to college, which she achieved.
“I knew at a young age if I put myself in those risky behaviors, I’d be in that county forever. I was determined to have more for myself,” said Davis.
There seems to be a gap, professionally, people are over here,” she said holding up one fist, “and personally they’re over here.”
People want education until it’s their children, Davis said, then they wonder what their child is being told.
“How do we help kids be knowledgeable, and not naïve?” asked Davis.
Craig said it’s exciting when parents bring their teens and preteens in to talk to us, because they don’t know what to say.
“As a conservative parent, I’m very cautious,” said Stallings. “Sometimes, parents don’t understand what to do when their children come home and ask questions.”
Duvall asked how to develop mature, goal-oriented teens, interested in college instead of boyfriends, burdened with babies.
“Maybe we could have girls who had babies early talk about their struggles,” said Duvall.
There are a high number of teens who don’t get credit, said Davis.
“It’s huge struggle to work three jobs to take care of a child. That’s hard for anybody, let alone two 16-year-old kids with a baby who don’t get to finish high school” she said.
Becoming self-reliant early seems to be important to not becoming a teenage statistic.
“They think programs can solve their problems,” Stallings said. “They don’t realize the struggle they’ll go through. They don’t look ahead at consequences.”
A lack of critical thinking skills is missing, said Duvall.
“I was taught to think, not what to think, but to think for myself,” said Davis.
The next meeting of the Cherokee County Teen Prevention Task Force will be held at 6 p.m., Monday, March 10, at the Habitat for Humanity Building on the corner of First Street and College Avenue.