If you're the parent of a child who is sexually active or pregnant, there are many ways you can help.

Discovering your child is sexually active can be a difficult thing for a parent. Shock, anger or frustration, are common emotional responses. Discovering your child is pregnant or part of a pregnancy may be even more of a challenge, with emotions ranging from guilt to grief. Whatever your feelings, if you’re the parent of a child who is sexually active or pregnant, there are many ways you can help.

Start by talking to them about dating, contraception, condoms, STDs and healthy relationships. If your teen is pregnant or part of a pregnancy, this conversation may seem a bit late, however it’s still important to future behaviors. Talking with your teen not only strengthens the familial bond, it also helps ensure their safety. Research shows that teens who talk with parents about these topics:

Have sex at a later age Use condoms and birth control more often Have better communication with partners Have a lower risk of teen pregnancy and STDs

Also, talk with them about their future. Young people who believe they have bright futures and opportunities are much less likely to engage in risky or sexual behaviors.

Be clear and specific about your family’s values and rules. For example, if you believe people should not have sex until they are married, or that teens in high school are too young to be involved in a serious relationship, say that. In national surveys, teens report that parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex, and share their parents’ values. So whatever your beliefs, say them out loud and explain why you believe what you do.

Supervise by establishing rules, curfews, and expectations. Get to know your child’s friends and their families. Also, be sure to monitor what they are reading, watching and listening to, and encourage them to think about consequences from behaviors they may be exposed to in the media.

Believe in your power to affect change. It may seem like your teen is ignoring you, or doesn’t care what you think. Despite how they act, some of what you say will sink in. Multiple surveys report that children want to talk to their parents about sex and that parents influence their decisions about sex more than friends do.

Make sure your child visits with your medical provider regularly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents have private time with doctors to ask specific questions about sex, sex-related health, or pregnancy.

In addition to parental involvement, there are other ways to delay sexual activity and prevent teen pregnancy. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, recent studies show that by implementing the following, teen pregnancy can be reduced:

Curriculum-based education that encourages both abstinence and contraceptive use. The Ottawa County Health Department (OCHD) provides the Wisdom in Sexuality Education and Understanding Parenting (WISEUP) program - a curricula that emphasizes delaying sexual activity, practicing abstinence, and the prevention of HIV, STD’s and pregnancy to teens in Ottawa County.

Service learning programs whose primary focus is keeping young people constructively engaged in their communities and schools. The OCHD Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project provides after school book and scrapbooking clubs for middle school girls. The clubs provide an opportunity to reinforce concepts and messages learned during the teen pregnancy prevention program. The project also hosts special community all day events like “Man-Up” for boys and “My Life” for girls, which focus on healthy relationships, teen pregnancy, self-esteem, and resisting peer pressure.

Programs that encourage involvement from the entire community. They include public service announcements, community-wide events such as health fairs, and direct service programs like Children First. The OCHD’s Children First program partners first-time mothers with specially trained registered nurses. Nurses work with clients and families not only to promote healthy pregnancies and babies but to educate on contraceptive use and family planning. The goal is to reduce the incident rate of unplanned pregnancies for young mothers, as teens are at increased risk of having a repeat birth while still a teenager.

Teenage pregnancy not only affects teens and families but the community as well. Teen girls who have babies are less likely to finish high school, and more likely to rely on public assistance. Teen fathers are also less likely to finish high school and are more likely to have economic and employment challenges than adult fathers. In the U.S., teen childbearing cost taxpayers approximately $9.4 billion in 2010 due to lost tax revenue, increased public assistance payments, and greater expenditures for public health care, foster care, and criminal justice services.

The teen birth rate in the US has declined over the last 20 years, and Ottawa County’s in the last year. Even so, the rate in Oklahoma among 15-19-year-olds is still second highest in the nation, according to the most recent 2012 birth data report from the National Center for Health Statistics. Alarmingly, the report also showed that Oklahoma had the highest birth rate to older teens, ages 18-19.

Teen pregnancy has many causes, and it can take more than any single individual, curriculum, or community program to reduce rates. Making true and lasting progress in preventing teen pregnancy requires the combined involvement of parents, schools, and communities.

For more tips on teens and pregnancy prevention visit: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/oah-initiatives/tpp

For more information on the OCHD’s Children First or WISEUP program, call 918-540-2481 or visit: http://ok.gov/health/County_Health_Departments/Ottawa_County_Health_Department/

— Sean Bridges is Health Educator for the Delaware and Ottawa County Health Departments.