Teen pregnancy in the Latino community
Alejandra Gudino, MA, extension associate, HDFS, University of Missouri Extension; & Kim Allen, Ph.D., MFT, director, Center on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Parenting, state specialist, HDFS, University of Missouri Extension
Adolescence is a time of new found freedom and exploration. It is also the time when behaviors are established that have both immediate and long-lasting implications. Teen pregnancy is just one of the many possible consequences of risky adolescent behavior.
In the Latino community, teen pregnancy rates are rising faster than the national average. Statistics show that Latino adolescents are at considerable risk for the negative consequences of early and high sexual activity. Not only are the HIV rates far above the national average for Latino youth, but half (51 percent) of Latina teens get pregnant at least once before the age of 20. In 2004, an estimated 1.6 million Latina girls aged 15 to 19 became pregnant nationwide, and although the data is limited, there were approximately 579 Latina teen pregnancies in Missouri in 2007.
There is only one way for a teen to completely avoid pregnancy: abstain from sex. The next best way to avoid pregnancy is to use contraception. Both options require motivation and are at times quite difficult for youth. Although some young people are abstaining from sexual activity or are using protection when sexually active, many youths do not have all the facts they need. It is important for youths to receive medically accurate information as well as decision-making skills to help them make healthy choices regarding sexual activity. With proper education and involvement from family, unintended pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases can be greatly reduced.
Getting Latino parents and their youth to talk about being sexually active is critical. Although many teens wish they could talk to their parents about sex, most feel awkward asking questions. Instead, many teens get their information about sex from friends and the media. These sources of information can be very powerful, but the information may be misleading, and information on family values is often skipped. Research shows that parents and teens agree on one thing — when it comes to talking about sex, parents often do not know what to say, how to say it or when to start. Parents need to know that they are the most effective and influential force in their child’s life. Some of the latest reports on Latino pregnancy prevention affirm this idea:
- 70 percent of Latino teens want more information about both abstinence and contraception.
- 74 percent of sexually experienced Latina girls and 62 percent of Latino boys wish they had waited longer to have sex.
- 94 percent of Latino teens think it is important to be given a strong message that they should not have sex until they are at least out of high school.
What should parents do? Research suggests that parents need to do the following to help their teens engage in healthy behaviors.
- Stay connected and build trust
High levels of parents’ connectedness are associated with delayed sexual initiation.
Specific communication about sexual activity is more effective than general communication. Although Latino parents appreciate the need for open communication, they find engaging in these conversations difficult.
- Set boundaries
The presence and enforcement of dating rules may delay onset of sexual intercourse. Parental control may be related to more positive outcomes.
Age-appropriate parental monitoring of adolescents’ whereabouts protects against intention or risky sexual behaviors.
- Family values
Familismo has been associated with decreased influence of peers on risk-taking behaviors.
It is imperative that Latino families and communities not only understand this phenomenon, but that they understand what steps are needed to help youth remain safe during their adolescent years. For more information, contact the Center on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Parenting online at http://extension.missouri.edu/hdfs/caspp.htm.
Adapted from Connecting For Families curriculum.
Allen, M., Svetaz, M., Hardeman, R., & Resnick, M. 2008. What research tells us about Latino parenting practices and their relationship to youth sexual behavior. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Washington, D.C.
Department of Health and Human Services. 2009. Strengthening families and communities, resource guide. Retrieved from http://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing.
Guttmacher Institute. 2009. Contraception counts: State by State comparative. Retrieved from http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/state_data/states/missouri.html.
Kaiser Family Foundation. 2008. Sexual health of adolescents and young adults in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/upload/3040_04.pdf.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Missouri Information for Community Assessment. http://www.dhss.mo.gov/FertilityRateMICA/indexcounty.html.
Vexler, E. 2007. Voices heard: Latino adults and teens speak up about teen pregnancy. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from www.teenpregnancy.org.
Last Updated 07/07/2009