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What teen moms want you to know about 'the talk'

Gloria Malone is a freelance writer, former teen mom, and political advocate based out of New York City. 

Teen moms band together to defy stereotypes and prevent teen pregnancy

Tired of being pigeonholed for causes that seemed to use them and never listen to them, seven former teenage mothers bound together to create #NoTeenShame to fight back and speak for themselves.

#NoTeenShame speaks about the importance of supporting and encouraging pregnant and parenting teens to reach their goals in life while also advocating for comprehensive sexual health education that can help reduce unintended teenage pregnancies.

Having "the talk" with our children can be a nerve-wracking experience that is both necessary and very important in shaping the ways in which our children approach the topic of sex and sexuality. The seven mothers of #NoTeenShame believe in the importance of having "the talk" and not shaming or stigmatizing teenage parenthood in the process.

SheKnows: What should parents focus on when talking to their children about sex and relationships?

#NoTeenShame: First, parents need to realize that a big part of "the talk" is not actually verbal. Parents need to be establishing a safe and comfortable relationship with their children prior to ever talking about sex with them. "The talk" is an ongoing conversation so establishing safe and healthy environments often is necessary. Your kids need to know and feel that they can come to you with questions. Focus on answering questions asked as close to family and cultural values while not leaving out the medically accurate responses young people need. Instead of saying, "Don't be a teen parent because it's terrible and will ruin your life," give them answers to the direct and indirect questions they are asking.

SK: #NoTeenShame discusses the importance of sexual health education. How do you think we, as a country, are doing in terms of sexual health education for our youth?

#NTS: As a country, we absolutely are not doing enough to educate youth about sexual health. Sexual health education is about so much more than just the part about what "our genitals do together," it's about relationships, emotional health, physical health and sexual health. The rates of STD/STIs in young people are off the charts. While teenage pregnancy rates are at some of the lowest rates we've had as a country in decades, the rates of diseases our young people are contracting are going up. While many states still have abstinence-only education, many states still lack a clear definition and example of what medically accurate, inclusive and shame-free comprehensive sex education looks like. That is a major problem.
As parents, we have to advocate for comprehensive sex education because our children need it.

SK: Do you feel that sex education and conversations about teenage pregnancy prevention need to go hand in hand? In other words, does society have to talk about teenage pregnancy and parenting in order to talk about sex education?

#NTS: Teenage pregnancy prevention is part of the sex education conversation, but the ways in which teenage pregnancy and parenting are discussed needs to be in a shame- and stigma-free way. Teenage parents are humans and families and should be treated as such, not as purely cautionary tales to use in an effort to scare your children about sex and relationships. Sex education is a lot of things, however, it is about preventing STIs, HIV and unintended pregnancies in addition to discussing sexuality, healthy relationships and explorations of what readiness means to you.

SK: What is "explorations of readiness"?

#NTS: "Explorations of readiness" is identifying and understanding what and when you are ready to do certain things. Sex is not a passive act; it is a very active act and therefore we need to discuss what, how and when we are ready to do certain sexual acts with other people. As adults, a lot of us are missing this and many youth do not even know about it. Fear and noneducation are not and cannot continue to be a poor substitute for sex education and sexual readiness.

SK: How can parents fill in the gaps of what sex education in schools are not teaching?

#NTS: Be honest, be open and foster the environment and relationships that say, "You can talk to me" when it comes to your kids. Also remember that "the talk" is an ongoing conversation that you will have several times. Oh! And it is OK to not have all of the answers right away. If your child asks a question that you do not know the answer to or are not sure how to answer at the time, buy yourself some time by saying, "I'm not sure. I'll get back to you on that" and actually get back to them with a response.

You can learn more about #NoTeenShame by visiting their Tumblr, following #NoTeenShame on Twitter and reading about the Spirit of Service Award they just received from Healthy Teen Network.

More on health:

Why I take my daughter with me to the gynecologist
8 Things you should probably know about your vagina
Pregnant students deserve a place in the yearbook too

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