I would like to respond to Linda Chavez´s Commentary article on teen pregnancy. (“Eager to heed what they hear,” May 5). I direct a pregnancy center for Latinas, and I also teach parenting classes. My specialty is sexuality education. While I agree completely with Mrs. Chavez that the bottom line for teen pregnancy prevention rests with parents and not the schools, I would like to point out an equally important factor that Mrs. Chavez overlooks.
In my work, I have found that for the parental message to be effective it has to be a “save sex for marriage” message and not just “wait till you are no longer a teen.” In other words, parents need to stress the inappropriateness of “premarital” sex and not just “teen” sex in order to be effective. After all, there is nothing wrong with teen sex if the teens are married. And, by the same token, all the same risks and consequences exist for having premarital sex whether one is a teen or not. Yes, I realize that many will argue that this is not true, that teens are too immature to make good choices about choice of mate and contraception. But I believe that by stressing the dangers of teen sex, we are sending a message that the problem is one of maturity. In so doing, we are inviting teens to become sexually active if only to prove their perceived “adult” status. Becoming sexually involved then becomes a “rite of passage,” a way one can tell the world that one is “responsible and mature.”
Instead, I believe that parents need to be consistent in telling their teens that the reason to postpone sex until marriage is because, if they do, it will be better for their marriage. Marriage and lifelong commitment between partners who have “saved” themselves for each other is the goal we should ask our teens to aim for not just “wait until you are in college.” We sell our teens and ourselves short when we lower our expectations, inadvertently encouraging the behavior we are trying to prevent. I would bet that if researchers analyzed the messages that parents send that kept teens from becoming sexually involved, they would find this distinction: Parents who teach by word and example that sex is for marriage are far less likely to have teens involved in premarital sex.
MARIA SUAREZ HAMM