Dr. Gellner: Teen pregnancy. It's something I see more than you'd think. So what's going on? Is it lack of parent involvement in a teen's life? Are kids too embarrassed to talk to parents about protection?
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Dr. Gellner: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than half a million teen girls become pregnant every year. They even have set out a policy statement on helping to counsel pregnant teens to make sure they get good medical care and information about their options while still being respectful of the families involved.
In my experience, teen pregnancy doesn't have a set demographic. I've taken care of teens who've become pregnant or who father pregnancies from all walks of life, from affluent families, Medicaid families, foster families, families where teens have good relationships with their parents, families where teens have very strained relationships with their families, teens who are "good kids" and teens who have been more difficult to control.
I've seen it in families who are very much against birth control and who promote no sex until marriage, and in families who are very open about sex and birth control. I've had to tell teens aged 16, 14, even a preteen 12-year old that they are pregnant.
Bottom line, there is no age or social situation that can predict teen pregnancy. Of course, the only thing that prevents teen pregnancy with 100% effectiveness is teens not having sex at all. However, we know teens and we know how their hormones are. If a teen wants to have sex, they will most likely go ahead and have sex. The more taboo it is in the family though, we sometimes find the less likely the teen will talk to someone about protection.
Again, sex doesn't just cause babies. It causes sexually transmitted diseases too. There is less and less sex-ed in schools today, and while kids should be taught the basic biology of sex as part of health class, they really need to get the bulk of sex-ed from their parents. They need to know what their family values are about sex. They need to feel comfortable talking to their parents about sex if they have questions so they don't get misinformation from their teens.
Trust me, I've heard some pretty strange things out there from teens. Pretty much all pediatricians are comfortable talking with teenagers about sex even if their parents aren't. In fact, it's something we start talking about at the 12 year well visit in my clinic, mainly to bring awareness to the parent and the patient. To say, "Hey, guess what? Your teen and their body are going to change a lot in the next few years, and we really want to help open the lines of communication so your teen knows that if they have questions they can talk to someone." Talking about sex won't make your teen go out and do it, nor will it prevent them from doing it, but it just might prevent a teen pregnancy.
If your teen is sexually active, most pediatricians are comfortable discussing birth control options. If your teen becomes pregnant, it's very important for the health of the teen and the baby to get medical care right away. Your teen's pediatrician can help you find an OB that works with teens.
Bottom line is teen pregnancy has always happened and will continue to happen, but the health of the teens and the babies needs to be top priority no matter what the situation.
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