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Guest Voz: Helping Latino parents develop strategies to talk to their kids about sex

LatinaLista — The issue of Latina teen pregnancy is not new. Yet, it is something that is getting renewed attention because of several consequences of teen pregnancy: teens tend to drop out of school; they hold down menial jobs and, on average, the children of teen parents don’t fare any better than their parents.

Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos

More and more people realize that these consequences are having long-lasting impacts on the future success of these young Latinos — economically, academically and professionally. In turn, the health of the nation is affected.

The best way to combat Latino teen pregnancies is for parents to take aggressive steps in ensuring their children have healthy attitudes about sex.

Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, professor and co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the Silver School of Social Work at NYU, knows that sex is not an easy topic for Latino parents to discuss with their children.

In the following guest post, Dr. Guilamo-Ramos outlines basic techniques, strategies and resources to help parents start the conversation before an already bad situation worsens.

Latinas have the highest rate of teen pregnancy compared to any other racial or ethnic group in the United States as more than fifty percent of Latina teens become pregnant before the age of twenty.

Given the long-lasting consequences of unintended pregnancy such as increased health risks and financial hardship, it is no surprise that a majority of Latino parents are concerned about the sexual health of their children, according to Let’s Talk: Are Parents Tackling Crucial Conversations About Sex?, a recent poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at the Sliver School of Social Work at NYU.

The poll, which surveyed 1,111 nationally-representative parents of 10- to 18-year-olds, found that eighty-one percent of Latino parents are talking to their children about topics related to sexuality and sexual health.

This is great news as research shows that parents can play an important role in helping their teen avoid teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

However, less than half of Latino parents feel that they have done a very good job in talking with their children about sexuality and sexual health and only forty-five percent feel very comfortable talking to their child about these issues.

These findings suggest that while most Latino parents want to help their teen be safe and healthy, many may be unsure about the specific ways in which to do so.

Three critical factors have been identified in research with Latino families to prevent poor sexual health outcomes among Latino youth: parent-adolescent communication about sex, parental monitoring and supervision and parent-adolescent relationship quality.

Specific strategies are provided to help parents concretely apply these recommendations with their teen and have a greater influence on the decisions their teen makes about sex.

Parent-adolescent communication about sex

Talk early: Sexual behavior tends to begin in early adolescence for many Latino teens and talking early is necessary.

Talk frequently: Instead of a single conversation, frequent discussions are necessary to convey important messages about sex.

Be clear: Parents should clearly convey their values regarding disapproval of sexual behavior during early adolescence.

Monitoring and supervision

Set clear expectations: Ensure that your child is aware of the guidelines of expectations and consequences of their behavior.

Discourage serious romantic relationships: Serious romantic relationships where one of the adolescents is two or more years older can lead to adolescent sexual risk behavior. Thus, parents should not permit such relationships during early adolescence.

Encourage correct and consistent contraception: If your teen is clearly sexually active, Latino parents should endorse correct and consistent contraceptive use. Express how important it is that your teen stick to an effective contraceptive plan and recommend dual methods.

Quality of parent-adolescent relationship

Spend time with your teen: By spending time with your teen, you can avoid conflict and emphasize mutual goals of importance.

Encourage mutual respect: Recognize your teen’s feelings and foster respect to develop high levels of parent-adolescent relationships satisfaction.

As teens overwhelming report that they care about their parents’ approval when making decisions about sexual behavior, it is important for parents to apply these strategies and overcome barriers of talking about sex.

Need more help?

Families Talking Together, a family-based program developed by the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health to help parents effectively talk to their kids about sex, is available at no cost and ready to download .

As October marks Let’s Talk Month, a campaign to encourage parent/child conversations about sexuality, parents should seize the opportunity and begin talking.

Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, PhD is a professor and co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, Silver School of Social Work at NYU.

Jane J. Lee, MSW is a research scientist at the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, Silver School of Social Work at NYU.

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