The 15-year-old girl had no idea raising a child would be so difficult. While pregnant with her now 3-month-old daughter, she fantasized about cuddling and playtime. And she thought she and her baby’s father would get married and start a wonderful life together.
That didn’t happen. She had few resources, and brought her newborn home to the bedroom that used to be her teenage sanctuary. Now it doubles as a nursery. Her typical teenage existence has ended with the onslaught of heavy responsibilities.
(The Hernando Today is withholding the young mother’s name due to the sensitivity of her situation.)
Cheryl Bennett, a sexual risk avoidance specialist and youth development coordinator with A New Generation Pregnancy and Family Resource Center, said the number of teen pregnancies in Hernando County is declining, but even one is too many.
Bennett counsels young people about the consequences of becoming sexually active while teenagers. From sexually transmitted diseases to pregnancy, the pressures on teens — and their families — can be tremendous.
Considering the divorce rate for two virgins who marry is 2 percent, abstaining from sexual activity before marriage makes healthy sense, Bennett said. “They bring no baggage to the marriage.”
More statistics favor abstinence: four out of 10 sexually active girls will become pregnant; 50 percent of teen moms will quit school before graduating; and those who stay in school are 50 percent less likely to go to college. They also are at much greater risk of having a second teen pregnancy with a different father.
Bennett advises teens to wait.
Life follows a series of sequences, Bennett said. She helps educate teens on the power they have to follow healthy sequences. Marriage, sex and then children, she said, is how she wishes the dating sequence would play out in modern relationships, particularly those among teens under age 18.
“Not only do we succeed better financially but our children succeed,” she said. “Sex has a place. And that place is inside a healthy marriage.”
A New Generation, a nonprofit pregnancy and family resource center, has been counseling teens, young adults and even parents and grandparents who need a soft place to land while dealing with such challenging situations.
It also goes into the schools to inform ninth graders about the risks of sexual relationships before they are adults. Through interactive sessions in health and physical education classes, Bennett strives to give teens the tools they need to make wise choices.
“Parenting is hard,” Bennett said. But parents need to keep communication strong with their children from very early on so they will be comfortable making good decisions when faced with mature issues.
“We do a serious disservice to our kids by not believing in them,” said Bennett. Society seems to have adapted the belief that teens cannot control their urges. “We have to set them up to succeed by talking to them about goals.”
Providing them with birth control will not stop teen pregnancies, Bennett said. “We need to reach them and teach them to value themselves enough to wait until they are adults to have sex.”
She said better choices begin when girls and boys have healthy self awareness. Unfortunately, absent fathers and single-parent households where the mother speaks negatively about her children’s father can have serious negative consequences, leading to low self esteem and feelings of inadequacy. “Girls become vulnerable to a man’s love if she didn’t get it from her father.”
Communicating messages that deliver feelings of being loved and valued are the most important shields against negative self esteem. “If we could look at our kids as broken when they come from brokenness, we might see things differently.”
Dads should work hard to establish loving and affectionate relationships with their daughters. If they know they are loved by their dads, they are less likely to seek love and approval from dysfunctional sources, she said. “I encourage dads to date their daughters.”
Bennett also cautions parents to get to know their daughters. “Talk to them, not at them,” she said. Determine what kind of personality they have and whether they show signs of vulnerability.
A New Generation aims to help bridge the gap between vulnerable teens and strong healthy futures. At its two locations — in Spring Hill and Brooksville — A New Generation provides services intended to assist families in building strong bonds and support.
For those who already are facing a teen pregnancy, A New Generation provides free pregnancy tests, ultrasound to determine viability of the pregnancy, parenting classes and ways for new parents to earn “mommy and daddy money” to buy items for their baby. A shop of donated diapers, wipes, accessories and clothing help the mother and father participate in healthy parenting.
Preventing teen pregnancy comes down to education, Bennett said. Whether that involves classes at high school, counseling or classes at A New Generation, or Bennett speaking to groups of parents free of charge, a foundation of better choices begins with knowing what tools to utilize in building healthy parent and teen interactions.