July 14, 1999

Parents: Talking to teens
about sex makes a difference

___By Bruce Nolan
___Religion News Service
___NEW ORLEANS (RNS) --Amid falling teen pregnancy rates, a national advocacy group is telling religious organizations to stick with their message on teen sexuality, whether it's condoms or abstinence--because against all expectations, teens seem to be listening.
___Parents and pastors may feel overwhelmed by the celebration of early or casual sex in youth-oriented music, television and movies, noted Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
___"I think parents sometimes feel it's a lost cause. Like, 'What influence do I have over tlwmy 15-year-old son? He and his friends listen to MTV and their peers, not me,'" Albert said.
___But a review of 20 years of sexuality studies reveals young people look first to parents and friends or leaders in their churches or synagogues for guidance on moral behavior, including sexual issues, said Tamara Kreinin, another staff member.
___"The message to parents is real clear," she said. "When it comes to talking about sex, it's come to the party early and stay late."
___The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is a private, non-profit organization, based in Washington, D.C. It does much of its work through faith communities of all denominations, while steering clear of the contentious condoms vs. abstinence battles that have polarized the debate on how to lower the rate of teen pregnancy.
___Instead, the group collects research data and acts as a clearinghouse for information on successful local public-health and church-based programs that can be mined for techniques, whatever an inquirer's theology of sex, Albert said.
___"We're saying there's plenty of room for agreement. We don't have to change each others' minds."
___With five co-sponsoring church and state institutions, the campaign ran a daylong conversation with pastors in New Orleans in June, seeking stories about what works and what doesn't.
___As the first of several meetings around the country, the findings will be gathered into a national report next year, Kreinin said.
___"We just need some help," said state Sen. Paulette Irons, D-New Orleans, who for years has organized efforts to discourage girls from becoming pregnant in their teen years, as she did. In April of last year, the Irons-led Louisiana Initiative on Teen Pregnancy Prevention launched a six-month billboard campaign encouraging parents to communicate the importance of sexual abstinence.
___Predictably, the panels divided over whether to preach sexual abstinence until marriage or merely to encourage it while also teaching condom use to lower the risk of pregnancy and disease.
___Nonetheless, some common themes became clear: the value of mentors in providing role models for youthful behavior; the need by churches to forgive and accept those who fail; the need for church leaders to live out the sexual values they preach; and the need for churches to provide teens with a hopefulness about the future that pregnancy would threaten.
___Together they seem to have an effect, Kreinin said.
___The rate of teen pregnancy fell 17 percent between 1990 and 1996, according to data published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
___The largest part of that decrease seems to be caused by more effective use of contraceptives, although data also suggest a slight decline in sexual activity among teens, Kreinin said.


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