Column, "There Are More Ways Than Ever to Start the Conversation," by Haydeé Morales, Vice President of Education, Training, and Margaret Sanger Center International, Planned Parenthood of New York City, published in Spanish in El Diario (10/28/10)
October is “Let's Talk Month,” that time each year designated to remind you just how important it is to have a conversation with your children about the facts of life.
I've often written about the importance of talking with your children about sexuality – studies show that when parents or guardians talk with young people about sexuality, the young people listen. Plus, young people are already being bombarded from all sides with information about sex and sexuality, often misinformed or distorted. If we don't make sure they have correct information, who will?
Yet, for many of us, having "The Talk" still seems like an insurmountable obstacle. It's not something our parents did with us when we were young, and if we haven't started having these conversations early, the years of NOT talking about sex or sexuality can seem to have built up into an uncomfortable silence.
Well, I want to make sure that all parents, guardians, and caretakers know that today there are more resources than ever to help you have a conversation. And it’s more important than ever to make sure you have that conversation.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the most common reason why Latino teens do not use contraception when they have sex is because they are afraid their parents might find out. The second most common reason? It's because they lack knowledge or education about contraception.
These barriers have real-life results. Although the teen birth rate among Latina girls has been declining, they still have the highest teen birth and pregnancy rates among all racial and ethnic groups. In fact, 52% of Latina teens get pregnant at least once before turning 20.
The conversation is easy to start, and there are a lot of tips out there on how to have it. In fact, both Planned Parenthood of New York City (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/nyc/files/NYC/ParentGuideSp.pdf) and Advocates for Youth (http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/Spanish/spanish_parent_child_communication.pdf) have fantastic, free downloadable guides en espanol on the Internet that help you talk to your children about sexuality.
If you'd rather practice and learn communication skills in a group, never fear. There are groups, such as Planned Parenthood of New York City’s adult education program called Adult Role Models. In workshops offered free of charge, parents teach other parents how to have conversations about sexuality with their children, and how to answer those tough questions that can come up.
And finally, for the first time ever, federal money is going to fund real evidence-based sex education programs, and a number of New York community organizations are recipients. Four organizations based in New York City (the Grand Street Settlement, Morris Heights Health Center, New York Mission Society, and Planned Parenthood of New York) have received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health to teach evidence-based sex education, and will be setting up classes in school and after-school, implementing programs that have already been shown to lower pregnancy rates. These will be based on curricula we already know are effective – and may be coming soon to a school or after-school program near you.
Remember, you're not in this alone. There are many other parents like you also figuring out how to have this conversation. With all the resources available, it's easier than ever to make sure your kids are getting the education they need. So what are you waiting for? Let's start the conversation.