Guiding Teens To Make Good Choices

LIVING

Advertisement

Two years ago, 187 women in Payson experienced a life-altering event: giving birth.

Sixty of those 187 births were to unwed mothers.

Thirty of those 187 babies were born of teenage mothers.

Seven of those mothers were barely driving age.

These statistics are from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

"(Teen pregnancy) is an epidemic in this town," said Michelle DeRouin of the most recent statistics available from Gila County. "It's a scary topic for Payson."

DeRouin is a case manger for Rim Guidance and a board member of New Beginnings Pregnancy Center.

"I think you have to have parents monitoring and teaching their kids about sex and their values on it...," DeRouin said.

Then the community can provide support and education to fill in the gaps.

For the past several years she has been instrumental in bringing age-appropriate, abstinence-based pregnancy prevention programs to Rim country teens. Support for these programs has come from parents, the school district and some churches.

The first year Sue Myers was principal at Payson High School, she was asked to do something about sex education. The request came from a young woman on the student council who believed many students were sexually active.

photo

Abigail Pederson, a Payson High School graduate, works with students in the SADD program and is a prevention specialist at Rim Guidance.

Last year DeRouin took teens from the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) program, the teens in peer counseling and high-risk students to the Maze in Globe

In the Maze, teens draw a printed scenario from a sack, one for the boys and one for the girls.

The card might say, you have a date with this person you really like, go to station two.

The next card would tell them whether or not they chose to have sex. For example, you had sex on your first date, go to station three.

At station three they might pull a card that says they have contracted a sexually transmitted disease and be shown a picture of exactly what that disease looked like.

"Teenagers not only need education they need shock value... they need reality," said DeRouin.

Each year nearly 4 million adolescents are infected with sexually transmitted disease -- the most common infectious disease among adolescents, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.

Feedback from teens on the bus ride back was that they both liked and didn't like the "icky" pictures.

There are very few success stories in the Maze. A teen might pull a card that says they took drugs while pregnant, causing complications.

photo

Michelle DeRouin, case manger for Rim Guidance and a board member of New Beginnings Pregnancy Center.

Scenarios might include actually sitting down at a station and applying to the Arizona Health Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and for food stamps.

AHCCCS paid for prenatal care and delivery for 104 of the mothers who gave birth in Payson in 2003 at an average cost of $2,000 each. These figures do not include newborn care.

Even getting pregnant and still being able to go to college is one possibility.

Teens can go through the Maze as many times as they wish. The day ends with a counseling session with licensed counselors.

DeRouin wanted to learn what the teens didn't know. What was the difference between those with education and those who were already sexually active?

One teen asked DeRouin, what's the difference between abstinence and virginity?

The teen didn't realize that she could make a decision to be abstinent even after losing her virginity.

Others thought that oral sex wasn't sex. They knew they couldn't get pregnant, but they didn't know they could catch STDs.

"(The Maze) was really cool because you had kids from both sides of the track interacting and giving their views of things," DeRuin said. "I think it's important that we not only target the abstinence piece, we have to look at the kids that are already sexually active. This town has not done that yet, they are very afraid to go there. I am trying to figure out how to bring that in without ticking everybody off."

One thing the Maze didn't do is talk about the emotional effects of rejection, of having sex drunk, on prom night, with someone. It is a scenario DeRouin hopes to add.

DeRouin said she is not discounting the emotions of boys, but in her estimation, girls experience more emotional devastation, especially in a society where stigmas and double standards are still strong.

"The stigma for girls is if you sleep with 15 guys you are a slut. If a guy sleeps with 15 girls he's a stud," DeRouin said.

According to DeRouin, the media in society promotes the acceptability of sex and this stereotype. Many parents are still allowing the media and peer groups to educate their children.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree.

"On TV, a lot of sex is casual... Sex often is shown in a way that does not match real life. Parents should point out to their children that sex is not as simple as it is portrayed."

Teens need information on which they can rely.

According to DeRuin the frontal lobe of the human brain is not fully developed until between the ages of 21 and 25.

This lobe is where impulse control and thinking about the future takes place. Adolescents are discovering their emotions while their hormones are in full swing.

During these developmental stages on the way to becoming an adult, teens can have poor impulse control.

"Discovering autonomy and intimacy is a process of [teens] separating from their parents and figuring out who they want to be, what they want to do," said Abigail Pederson a Payson High School graduate, who works with students in the SADD program and is a prevention specialist at Rim Guidance.

The U.S. government's evaluation of abstinence education programs found that "the portion of youth who say their parents have strict rules about companions they spent time with varies across sites between 15 and 45 percent."

The evaluation also found that up to 35 percent of teens hold the view that "having sex is a way to tell somebody you love them."

"It's good for parents to enforce value systems and reinforce them over and over," said Pederson. "My parents set value systems for me and I tested them to the limit, but that was an important thing for me to do because I learned on my own, and yeah, through some mistakes, that this is not who I want to be."

"I think parents need to always be suspicious," DeRouin said. "They need to always be one step ahead. They will outlast you, outrun you."

"A lot of the girls that I work with, especially girls that are sleeping around, getting STDs or get pregnant," Pederson said. "Either do not have a father who is around or do not have a good relationship with their father.

"I think one of the most important things for a father to do for his daughter is be that guy to tell her she is beautiful, she's important, ‘I love you,' ‘I care about you,' and to demonstrate those things by his actions."

We have a lot of girls out there who want to get pregnant because they are looking for someone to love them and they want somebody to love."

This is not to say that single parents are at a disadvantage. They can still act as good role models.

Community programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, coaches, teachers, families and friends can provide support.

"Having one significant role model in your life can absolutely change everything," DeRouin said.

Confidential information is available at New Beginnings Pregnancy Center (928) 474-7466, or on the web at www.4woman.org and www.4girls.gov.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.