Phew. The pregnancy test wasn't Haddie's after all. But it very well could have been, and Adam was right to panic. We know that Kristina got Haddie started on the Pill, but it takes a month to fully kick in so - as Adam pointed out - the pill can't be an excuse to do away with condoms. The fact is that sexually active teens who aren't using contraception have an 85% chance of pregnancy within a year. Most of the 745,000 girls in the U.S. who get pregnant each year didn't plan to. So now that it's official that Haddie is gong to be having sex, Kristina needs to keep the conversation with her going. Will Haddie commit to using protection every time? And will she use it correctly? No skipping pills, no forgetting to refill the prescription... and will she insist on it not just with Alex but with all her partners? Does she know that just because she's had sex already, she can always say no next time? Or with the next guy?
There is so much to the parent-teen sex talk that it's not fair to call it "The Talk." It's an 18-year conversation, and it's about love, values, relationships... and sex too, of course. Parents are their teens' first and best teachers on almost every subject, and on the topic of sex and love in particular. Over the past 15 years, polling done by the nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has found that teens consistently say that their parents are the number one influence on their decisions about sex. But parents always think that peers and media out-influence them. Maybe Kristina would have been more at ease knowing that it's not information that teens are seeking from their parents, it's how to navigate the emotional sides of dating and relationships. Things like: How do I know when I'm in love? How do I say no to sex without hurting feelings? Or - like Haddie - what if I'm sure that I am ready for sex? How will that change my relationship? And then, what about protection? What are my options? How do I get it? How do different methods work? How do I find the right birth control method for me? How do I bring it up with my boyfriend?
It seems so simple, really. There are only two ways to avoid pregnancy: don't have sex, or if you do, use protection carefully and correctly every single time. The thing is, teens won't do either one if they do not feel deeply motivated to avoid getting pregnant (or getting someone pregnant). That's really where parents make the biggest difference of all. Parents are in a better position than anyone else to help their teens understand why it's so important to delay pregnancy and parenthood until they're older and actually want to be parents. Adam and Kristina made it so clear to Haddie, even during their more awkward attempts to talk to her, that she really, really matters to them. This is the most powerful protection of all.
I love the way Kristina has been a champion of birth control while also making it clear to Haddie that she wished she'd waited to have sex. According to the National Campaign, that's what 9 out of 10 Americans believe: that teens should wait until they're out of high school before they have sex, but if they are having sex, they should learn about and use contraception. It's not a mixed message. And even though Alex is a great guy, Adam and Kristina were right to worry about the age difference between Alex and Haddie. Research shows that when there's an age difference of three years or more, sex is more likely to happen and it's less likely to be protected.
I also love the way Adam was just too flummoxed to deal with Haddie losing her virginity. Even though she felt ready, Adam wasn't ready for her to grow up yet. He couldn't look at her as a quasi-adult, so he didn't look at her at all. Which is why Sarah's advice to her brother last week was so on target: don't let your teens tell you when they're ready to grow up. Just as they're pulling away, that's when you need to be right there and not back off. It's hard-earned wisdom and so true; teens need their parents just as much as they did when they were toddlers - maybe even more. They just don't act like it.
Nearly three in 10 girls will get pregnant as teens, and one in six will be a teen mom. For a problem that is 100% preventable, these are sobering numbers. We know that television shows can be great discussion-starters for parents who want to tackle topics such as love, sex and relationships but just don't know how to get started. From everything I've seen, this season of Parenthood provides all the inspiration and motivation any parent needs.
Written by Marisa Nightingale, Senior Media Advisor, National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
National Campaign main site: www.thenationalcampaign.org
National Campaign parent portal: www.thenationalcampaign.org/parents
National Campaign opinion polling: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/pubs/WOV_2010.pdf