Notes from MPHA Forum: “Teens and Sexuality--- What’s New Beyond the Birds and the Bees?”
January 25, 2013
· Andrés Alvarez and Kadeeja Rivers, Planned Parenthood Teen Council
· Nina Jonson, My Health for Teens and Young Adults
· Judith Kahn, Executive Director of Teenwise Minnesota
· Ken Bence
· All young people have a set of fundamental needs
· Protective factors/ assets provide opportunities for healthy decision making
· My Health for Teens and Young Adults (formerly West Suburban Teen Clinic) provides important medical/clinic services for teens, also provides education to the community on sexuality
· Teens need to learn more than just the mechanics of sex and how to have safe sex, but need to know what a healthy relationship looks like
· Many teens do not have role models in their lives who demonstrate what healthy relationships look like
· “Beyond the Birds and the Bees” is really, how do the birds and the bees live together in harmony?
· Planned Parenthood’s Teen Council meets on Monday nights; is a peer group where they learn about reproductive health topics
· It’s really important for teens to know both the medical and emotional aspects of sex
· It’s fun learning about reproductive health with the Teen Council
Question (to Kadeeja and Andrés): “How do you communicate with your peers about sex?”
· We work with health teachers, also correct misinformation we hear from other teens
· We do classroom presentations, but teens often approach us after class with questions
· Birth control is usually the most common topic
Question (to Nina and Judith): How do you bring up topics of sex in your work?
· Our clinic provides a lot of reproductive health clinic services, and we always do a very comprehensive medical history including reproductive health history
· Bringing up reproductive health is central to our work
· We try to use humor as a balance to reach youth and communities; there is a balance between using humor but also discussing a very serious topic
· We help parents first understand their own values
· Try to help parents understand that they should be having an ongoing conversation with their child about sex, and not just “the talk”
Question (to Kadeeja and Andrés): How do you go about bringing up issues around sex in the high school setting?
· No one really seems to talk to their parents about sex, because their parents don’t want to talk to their kids about it.
· Parents don’t think their own kids are having sex, even though they know the statistics.
Question (to Andrés): How do you open the conversation with teen guys?
· My guy friends have pretty open conversations with their parents
· Parents should bring up the topic of sex at a younger age, because if they do teens are more likely to have this conversation with their parents later
Question (to all): In your work and experience, how are we working to address health disparities?
· A lot of work is being done to improve healthcare for the GLBT populations
o This is really a positive change; it’s on the radar that there are a lot of disparities facing GLBT youth and adults
o A young person knows right away if a place is friendly and somewhere they want to be
· Statewide, we see higher rates of STIs and pregnancies where there are fewer resources; it’s important to remember geographic disparities
· Also, Teenwise recognizes the disparities of youth in foster care systems, who are twice as likely to be pregnant, and the needs of youth in correctional facilities
· Really, it is important to target under-resourced communities
· We need to teach comprehensive sex ed in the schools; what I learned about sex was through Planned Parenthood, not through my school
· Repeat visits in classrooms are really important; if the work with Teen Council was more continuous with the same students, we would have a greater impact on the youth because they would feel more comfortable opening up and asking questions with time
Question (to all): Can you speak to working with youth who are experiencing high risk stressors (i.e. homelessness, concerns for GLBT youth, etc.)?
· It is important to know that there are homeless young people in every community, even in the suburbs
· Every year, there are fewer resources available to help youth who are homeless or highly mobile
· Rural communities are often a “resource desert”
· Rural youth facing these types of stressors often will find their way to the Twin Cities thinking it will be easier for them; many end up homeless
· Pressure to end up depending on survival sex is very common for homeless youth
Question (to Kadeeja and Andrés): How much of an issue is homelessness at your school [Mpls South]?
· Yes, homelessness is a problem at South, but as a student, it’s hard to see sometimes
· Cost is a really big issue for most youth because they don’t have much money; it’s really important for teens to know about low cost/ free birth control options available to them
· Sometimes teens will “risk it” and not use protection because they don’t have money and don’t know they can get free/ low cost birth control
· I always try to teach about free/low cost birth control every time I teach, because it’s really important for teens to know they can access these resources and get birth control
Question (to all): How does social media play into this question of healthy relationships?
· Regarding relationships, there is definitely not the same type of connection you have on social media vs. face-to-face
· Electronic communication makes it much easier to have unhealthy relationships
· It is much easier to be mean on the computer or via text
· Teens often use the term “fake relationships”
o Girls often want a boyfriend to make their relationship “facebook official”
· When I work with teens, I try to help them put social media in the context of real life
o I will work with youth to consider privacy issues and social media (i.e. if they wouldn’t shout their facebook status to all of the Mall of America, they probably shouldn’t post it on facebook)
· Our Youth Advisory Board describes how comments on You Tube are a great example of just who cruel people can be when they are on a keyboard vs. face-to-face communication
· Social media affects not just sexual relationships for youth, but also peer-to-peer relationships
· Interpersonal communication skills are needed for our youth, because they need these skills to negotiate and express what they need in the real world; they need the opportunity to practice these face-to-face skills
Question (to all): In your work, how do you take into account the wide range of opinions/beliefs on the somewhat controversial topic of teens and sex?
· Early in my work I had a great supervisor who helped me learn how to deal with “angry parent” calls
o Always have to find a place where you can agree with the parent; usually, this is something like, “We both want healthy and safe kids”
· I have found training in mediation has been very helpful
o When talking to those who disagree with your work (parents, policy makers, etc.), you really have to listen and try to hear their underlying interest
Question (to Kadeeja and Andrés): Do you get pushback with your work with Teen Council?
· Example: a kid in a classroom I was talking to kept asking questions over and over about Planned Parenthood; finally, he asked something specific about abortion and Planned Parenthood
o This kids question had nothing to do with the topic, which was pregnancy control, but rather expressing negative beliefs he had been taught about Planned Parenthood
· It doesn’t really bother me when people have a problem with what we do, because I believe in what we do and know it’s really important
Question (to all): How can MPHA advocate for the topic of healthy teens and sexuality?
· Really, you have to get people comfortable talking about sex with youth
· It’s really important to talk to teens about the resources available to them and what a healthy relationship looks like
· Also important to correct myths right away
· We need to advocate for resources for our youth
· Even in the unfavorable situation where comprehensive sex ed may not available to our youth in the schools, we can still advocate for other programs and services in youth development that serve as protective factors for youth; this will also help them make them healthier decisions about sex down the road
· Strive to be an “askable” adult
o Engage youth in conversation
· Also, it’s OK for adults to admit they don’t know the answer to a question
· It’s important to know that there are tons of resources available to teens and parents (i.e. Teenwise, Planned Parenthood, the U of M, etc.)
Statement by Ken Bence, Moderator:
· Also, funding is a very important issue, and it’s important for MPHA to follow the developments of the Governor’s Budget and advocate for important health funding
Summary of Key Points by Ken Bence, Moderator:
· Have to know basic needs of teens
· Need to be supportive and help teens understand what is a “healthy relationship”
· Youth need to feel safe
· Cost is a very important issue for youth, important to remember this when dealing with teens and birth control
· The topic of pornography did not come up in this short time, but several audience members had questions about this
· Also, social media and electronic communications are a very important issue for today’s youth; as public health professionals, how can we help youth with this?
Please save the date for the next Forum:
March 29th, 2013 -- Teens and addictive behaviors: What are our teens getting into?
Panelists and participants will discuss issues related to addictive behaviors among teens from tanning to texting to tobacco and some “T’s” in-between. Discussion topics will include tanning (in the sun, tanning booths and spraying), alcohol use, prescription and OTC drug abuse, the rise of designer drugs and the new ways that smoking and tobacco products are present among teen cultures.