National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: Lessons Learned

By Christina Saenz-Diaz

Today, May 4 is the 10th annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

I had every known risk factor for becoming a teen mother. As a teenage Latina, I had a one-in-two chance of becoming pregnant before the age 20, greater than any other ethnic groups. My mother was a senior in high school when I was conceived. I have numerous cousins who were pregnant when they were teens. At least a third of my friends were pregnant before they hit the age of 20. In high school, I was socially pressured to have a boyfriend or, at least, try sex. Despite social pressures to have sex and the risks associated with being a teenage Latina, how did I buck the trend?

Let me explain what my parents very consciously did to ensure that I was not a statistic. Hopefully, these lessons can be a guide to help other Latino guardians deal with their own children.

1. My parents kept me busy with extracurricular activities. Even though it was sometimes financially tough on my parents, I played the bass clarinet and was heavily involved in school band. My parents demanded that my brothers and I did something other than school, because it structured our free time.

2. My mom had the “talk” with me at 8 years old and repeated discussions around sex and my body throughout my teens. She made it clear that she would prefer for us not to have sex, but she also made it clear that it was important for us to protect ourselves if we did. Many Latino families see the discussion of sex as “taboo.” However, the research shows that the most important factor in the delay of first intercourse is if parents had the dreaded “talk.”

3. My mom did not stigmatize birth control. Anthropological work on teen sex and Latinas show that Latinas stigmatize the use of birth control. “Planning to have sex” signals promiscuity and not being a virgin, but “giving in at the moment” is not necessarily “puta behavior.” My mother stressed to me that the Catholic Church and many in our community are wrong about birth control. After raising four kids starting in her teens, she preferred condom usage over screaming babies with a loaded diaper.

4. My parents encouraged us to be future-oriented. That is, both parents regularly talked to us about our dreams and future. There was always some goal that they encouraged me to pursue, whether it was receiving an A on a next week’s history exam or becoming a politician one day. They reminded me on a nearly daily basis that risk-taking behaviors such as unprotected sex and drugs could ruin those dreams.

This guide is not necessarily meant to tell you what to do as a parent or to expose all the factors associated with teen pregnancy. It was written to show you the strategies that worked for my parents to prevent an unintended teenage pregnancy.

Sex is an awkward subject between children and parents. As my mom once poignantly pointed out, “It’s far more embarrassing for me for you to have a big panza than it is for me to tell you about sex.”


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