Tahlequah Daily Press

November 6, 2013

Local group working to reduce teen pregnancy

Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Sex is a topic many people don’t want to talk about.

Parents may not feel qualified or comfortable discussing sex with their children. Or they may be concerned their efforts at preventing teen pregnancy will be viewed as approving the behavior.

One local group that wants to help empower teens to enjoy their education, and to discover and achieve life goals before becoming parents, is looking for support.

By helping youth learn to set boundaries and encouraging abstinence, the group puts the impetus on the students themselves to learn about healthy relationships, improve parent-child communication skills, and set personal limits.

Tish Stallings, a prevention specialist with the Cherokee Nation, recently led a discussion about how to define strategies to raise awareness and help the community address the need to prevent teen pregnancies.

“Teen pregnancy is not generally recognized by the community and its leaders as a problem. People seem to have a vague awareness of the efforts toward preventing teen pregnancy,” Stallings said.

Underage drinking, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases are problems addressed through the work of groups like the Bringing Everyone’s Strengths Together coalition.

“We need to look at why teen pregnancy is an issue here in Tahlequah,” Stallings said.

Dr. Gregg Woitte, director of obstetrics and gynecology at W.W. Hastings Hospital, believes communities need to work toward breaking the cycle of grandparents raising their grandchildren.

“Just because you had kids when you were a teenager doesn’t mean your kids do,” Woitte said.

He said he’s delivered babies to children as young as 11, but generally they’re age 14 or 15.

One reason teens give for engaging in sex is lack of extracurricular activities, said Barbara Williams.

“Isn’t it really about parent involvement with their kids?” Woitte asked. “Doing things with their kids, being involved in their band or sports activities.”

While he was growing up near Chicago, there was no shortage of activities, Woitte said.

“We certainly need a more coordinated effort with recreation and a parks center here,” he said.

Terrill White grew up in Tahlequah, but he has worked in communities with a lot to do, yet the kids still say there’s nothing to do. As project coordinator for the “Draw the Line, Respect the Line” program, White is very aware of the need for teen pregnancy prevention efforts and education in the community.

“It seems that being a pregnant teenager is becoming more and more accepted,” said White. “I graduated from high school [in Tahlequah] in 1996 and I only remember one girl being pregnant.”

Woitte gets more requests for homebound students who are pregnant so they don’t have to go to school.

“And maybe teens attending the Alternative School is a success story, since they’re staying in school and not dropping out,” Woitte said.

Communication between parents and teens can be even more challenging today.

Kids are savvy and have access to so much information, said Melissa Pitts-Johnson, supervisor for the Cherokee Nation behavioral prevention programs.

“There is a technology and knowledge gap between parents and kids; adults are struggling to keep up,” Pitts-Johnson said.