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The Answer Blog

Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Teen Parents Need Support Not Shame

May 30, 2014

As health and sexuality educators we work to ensure that young people know how to prevent pregnancy, but are we also supporting teens when they become parents? Too often teen parents are shamed, and shaming does nothing to ensure young parents graduate from school and go on to pursue work that allows them to support their families. Answer recently spoke with Natasha Vianna, Online Communications Manager at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, about the work she does to provide comprehensive sexuality education and to support pregnant and parenting teens.

Alex Medina: You’re one of the young mothers behind the #NoTeenShame campaign. What led you to start the campaign?

Natasha Vianna: My negative experiences as a teen mom were shaped by people who refused to see me as a valuable woman in our society. Adults, relatives, educators, providers and strangers have regurgitated statistics and data with the intention of limiting my potential and putting me “in my place.” Organizations claiming to have the good intention of reducing teen pregnancy were using their power and money to continue oppressing my already marginalized community by tokenizing our stories for shock effect.

Every year, I would mentally and emotionally prepare myself for May, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and the accompanying images, posters, PSAs and messages around teen pregnancy. Often times, I’d ask myself if my 8-year-old daughter would see these images and ask me if I ruined her life like those ads said she would. She didn’t ruin my life, she improved it. But there were few organizations that were willing to elevate those stories, the stories of teen parents who rediscovered purpose in their lives and challenged the odds because of their children.

When the Candie’s Foundation’s #NoTeenPreg campaign was launched again in May of 2013, we joined forces and created #NoTeenShame. During the 2013 campaign, we heard from many organizations around the world that were thankful for our movement. Teen moms started tweeting us their stories. The children of teen moms started sharing their narratives, and people all over were eager to hear more about us and our work. This year, we made it a point to be proactive versus reactive by collaborating with organizations and designing helpful tips for allies. This campaign has really motivated me to continue pushing for a more just society and believing that anyone really can make a difference.

AM: Many of the messages young people get from pregnancy prevention campaigns are negative and shaming. What does positive and supportive teen pregnancy prevention look like to you?

NV: All young people, including young parents, deserve equitable access to LGBTQ-inclusive comprehensive sex education that provides the information young people need to make empowered decisions about their bodies, gender, sexuality and relationships. Sex education must address the impact of systems of oppression on sexual and reproductive health and rights. It must be inclusive of people with disabilities, LGBTQ people and parents as well as be culturally and linguistically accessible.

Truthfully, I would completely stop saying “teen pregnancy prevention” entirely and reframe my own language to embrace the importance of supporting young people and their reproductive rights. Teen pregnancy itself has been narrated as a negative consequence, one that needs to be prevented no matter what. This ignores the reality that teen pregnancy is a complex issue and that there are teens who want to become parents, feel pressured to become parents or come from cultures that simply do not vilify young men and women for becoming young parents.

AM: What’s one misconception about teen pregnancy that you’d like to clear up?

That teen pregnancy will ruin a young person’s life. This was probably the most traumatizing thing I had to hear over and over again. The message itself fails to address the reality that many of us were raised by teen parents or have relatives or friends who were teen parents. My mother, my grandmother, my aunt, my cousin and almost all the women in my family were teen parents. While being a teen parent was not the ideal role for young men and women, my culture also did not perpetuate the idea that our lives would end once we were parents.

When you’re a pregnant teen and you are constantly told that teen pregnancy ruins your life, can you imagine how that feels? Can you imagine how it felt for me to carry a child inside me that society already labeled as a public health issue? Can you imagine how it felt for me to give life to the very person that society said would end mine? It was a terrible thing to live through. I’d love to see us shift from that narrative and focus on all the things young people can accomplish and then provide them with all things they need to fulfill their own dreams. We have a lot of work to do.

AM: What can health teachers do to be more inclusive of pregnant or parenting teens?

I know health educators can often feel pressured to be inclusive, but it’s important to acknowledge that expectant and parenting teens often have complex identities. Being a young parent doesn’t put us into a different category; it just adds another layer to our already existing identities. Our pregnancies don’t always put us on the path to being more informed on our sexual health, so keep in mind that like all people, we are always learning.

You Want Me to Say WHAT? Talking About Sex With Your Kids

November 30, 2011

If you’re a parent, you know well that you have many jobs when it comes to your children’s well-being. But did you know that one of these is being your child’s sexuality educator?

Teaching your child about sexuality, in the context of your own family values, is one of the most important jobs you have-yet it is the job parents usually get the least amount of training to do.

The very idea of talking about sexuality tends to raise a myriad of questions for parents: What’s appropriate to say at which ages? Shouldn’t I wait for my child to bring it up? What if I don’t know how to answer my child’s questions?

Relax! There are some basic ways that you can let your children know that you are a safe, “askable” adult-no matter what they might have questions about.

It’s Never Too Early to Start. It’s important to remember that sexuality has to do with far more than “sex.” “Sexuality” is a far-reaching, comprehensive term that encompasses everything from physical anatomy to understanding how to treat people with respect to learning how pregnancy happens and much, much more.

When you understand this, you know that children are receiving messages about sexuality from the day they are born-from the words people use around them to describe their body parts to messages they get from family, peers and the media about how they are supposed to behave based on their assigned gender. The longer you wait to talk with your child, the more you are competing with what they’re hearing all around them.

The important phrase here is “age-appropriate”-what your child needs to know as a kindergartener is much different from what she or he needs to know in high school. Start early, start slowly-and if you’re unsure, reach out for some guidance.

It’s Never Too Late to Start. If you are the parent of an adolescent and you haven’t yet started talking with your child, you didn’t miss the proverbial boat. Start now and keep talking.

As your children get older, they will need to know new information with each passing year and be faced with making decisions about relationships and shared sexual behaviors. Your guidance will be imperative throughout their adolescent years.

Try to put the idea of having “the” talk out of your mind. You need to talk early and often!

Take Small Bites. You don’t need to cover absolutely everything in one conversation with your child. It will overwhelm you as much as it will your child!

Look for teachable moments: watch television with your child and mute the television during commercials to discuss something you’ve just seen.

Take advantage of car rides to and from school and other activities. This is a non-threatening place to have discussions about sexuality and other important topics.

Talk With Your Partner or Spouse About Your Values. If you are married or in a relationship, make sure that you and your spouse or partner talk about your values and beliefs relating to sexuality so that if you have individual conversations with your child, the messages you are giving are consistent.

Be sure to deal with any differences you may have in your opinions and values away from your child. For example, if one of you believes it’s OK for 13-year-olds to date but the other thinks that that’s too young, you need to have that conversation independent of your child and figure out together how to respond in ways that provide information without undermining either one of you or your beliefs.

If You Don’t Know, Say “I Don’t Know.” There is a strong pressure on parents to know everything. Although we may love it when our kids are younger and think we do, we can’t possibly. The good news is there are tons of Web sites, books and other resources for parents.

If you’re stumped, be honest with your child, saying something like, “That’s a really great question. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. Let’s go look it up online together.” You won’t lose validity in your child’s eyes. In fact, he or she will appreciate your honesty.

There’s nothing about becoming a parent that makes us instant experts in sexuality-or in any other topic for that matter. But the good news is you’re not alone.

You can get support from trained sexuality educators, learn from fellow parents and get guidance from folks in your faith community, if you are a member of one. Talking about sexuality isn’t always easy, but it is always important.

You Want Me to Say WHAT? Talking About Sex With Your Kids” was originally published by MOMeoMagazine.com

“Penis” Is Not a Dirty Word

September 19, 2011

Recently, I was sitting with a neighbor in her driveway as her young children were coloring on the driveway with chalk. The children would take turns lying down as we traced their outlines, and then they would jump up to draw in their eyes, noses and mouths. One of her sons completed his figure by drawing a line between his legs. When his mom asked what he had drawn there, he said it was his penis. Looking shocked she exclaimed, “Don’t say that! Go sit in a timeout!”

As a sexual health educator, I have spent much of my career teaching young people the correct terminology for their sexual anatomy and undoing all of the nicknames and slang terms that parents (and other adult caregivers) teach their children (“pee-pee,” “vajayjay,” “hoo-hoo” and on and on). I have also helped young people overcome their embarrassment and fear of saying words like “penis” and “vagina” out loud. It is important for people of all ages, even young children, to know the proper names for all of their body parts and how they function, so that if something is wrong they can seek help or ask questions in the pediatrician’s or school nurse’s office.

A parent is a child’s first and most influential sexuality educator. From day one, parents send strong messages to their children about all aspects of sexuality, including how they should feel about their bodies. These messages are conveyed through the words, body language and tone of voice used when discussing body parts and how they work. It is vital for parents to have open and honest discussions with children of all ages to keep their kids healthy and to teach them how to communicate and set boundaries with others in order to help prevent sexual abuse. These early dialogues let kids know that they can go to their parent(s) with any questions they may have about their bodies, and will also make discussions about sexuality much easier as the child grows into a teenager and young adult.

A child needs to feel good about his or her entire body. When slang terms are used or it’s forbidden to even mention a body part, it sends a message that these parts are somehow shameful or dirtier than other body parts. I hope that all parents stop to consider the message they are sending when they use slang terms, or even worse, when they do not name the parts at all or simply don’t talk about them. Our sexual anatomy is as much a part of our bodies as our elbows and knees. We need to name them and talk about how they work, so that we can take care of them and keep them healthy.