When your teenage adolescent son or daughter unconfidently signs: “Mom, Dad…We need to talk”, the very first feeling enticed – is that of worry and the thought of wonder. Indeed those words are enough to make any parent cringe with unrestrained energy of a million creative thoughts on what lies in the mind of their child – usually the feeling of being about to be asked a pressing question or confronted with the revelation of a recent truth, creeps in.
In fact, these are words many young people wish they could say to either or both parents when faced with a dilemma or simply curiosity and look to their elders and/or parents for guidance. Many adolescents are sceptical about asking their parents questions regarding their sexuality and reproductive health. In the absence of guidance from their parents, most often, adolescents and youth lead to peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and social media platforms for answers, with the hope of finding satisfactory knowledge and comfort in what they otherwise would have gained from their parents.
The diversified opinions expressed on social media and internet peer forums, cannot always be beneficial to the reader and often than never, unsurprisingly, leads adolescents and advice seeking youth astray. Traditionally, we follow advice given to us by our parents more naturally than that expressed indirectly to us by strangers online. Every parent envisions a bright future for their child before they are even born, it is no secret that parenting doesn’t come with a manual, neither do choices adolescents make come with a reset button. Thus it is vital that parents play a strong role in creating enabling environments for their children to initiate dialogues with them from an early age about their sexual and reproductive health and rights matters, and take the full responsibility of openly engaging in constructive discussions with their teenagers; including and not limited to sharing information on either gender on pregnancy, the importance of family planning, the understanding and use of various contraceptives, protection against sexually transmitted diseases and access to health treatment thereof.
I always tell parents – if you dread ‘talking’ to your teenager about condoms, STD’s & HIV and all the nutty gritty details of reproductive health – rather think of it as a step towards ‘mentoring’ your child. Mentorship is a two-way relationship formed on coaching and guidance that results in beneficial outcomes for the mentee, it is crucial for personal development in any capacity of influence.
We, as parents, cannot rely on the school curriculum alone – and hope that our teenagers ask questions in the classroom and get the necessary guidance from the comprehensive sexuality education syllabus. Across the world, underage teenagers are subjected to unplanned & unintended pregnancies where thousands resort to unsafe abortion; they also contract sexually transmitted diseases whilst they are young and still in school. Statistics in South Africa reported that more than 99 000 teenage pregnancies were recorded in 2013. With a population of over 6 million people infected with HIV/AIDS in the country, there are rising new infections reported amongst youth aged between 12-24 and knowingly – that is part of a generation that is expected to be in school.
In 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States reported that there were 273 501 babies born to females aged between 15-19 years. There are many factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy especially with all the socioeconomic influences young people find themselves in. However, regardless of their country of origin, there comes a point in time where personal mentorship and guidance by parents has to also be an encouraged mandatory practice, for adolescents to make the right choices even when they are not under the watchful eye and physical presence of their parents. Resting assured and giving adolescents the full benefit of the doubt for single-handedly making unguided decisions about their social behaviour and sexual and reproductive health, without playing a significant role in information provision and personal mentorship – parents could potentially find themselves in irrevocable and regrettable situations.
In all essence, it is important to ensure that we keep adolescents in school, however, it is equally crucial that personal development through influential guidance and mentorship, begin at home. It is not the responsibility of the teenager alone to ask questions – but the responsibility of the parent to initiate the discussion and create enabling environments within their households that are safe, open and transparent for their children to not fear addressing issues regarding their sexual and reproductive health, that could potentially negatively affect them.
So, instead of waiting in vain for the words: “Mom, Dad…We need to talk”, rather initiate a dialogue on different topics each month on sexual and reproductive health matters, and provide your adolescents and youth with the guidance, support and mentorship they need.
Sexual and reproductive health will be one of the important themes discussed at this year’s UN General Assembly, as the world comes together to see the end of the MDGs and the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. Girls’ Globe will be present at UNGA, reporting live from the heart of the action. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to get the news and updates straight from New York!
Featured image: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development