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The Pregnancy Pact: Talking about teen pregnancy

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






The sex talk revisited

In June 2008, a small Massachusetts fishing town made national headlines. Seventeen students were pregnant after those girls and several others created a pact to get pregnant and rear their babies together. Last week, Lifetime aired The Pregnancy Pact, a fictionalized version of the story based loosely on the events as they were reported. Remember the after school specials of the late eighties? Right. This isn't Masterpiece Theatre or cinema vérité, but that's not why you're watching. Despite the movie's often heavy-handed "we have a message" vibes, if you missed it on television, you can and should watch it online with your teenager, because it's a great way to open a conversation that you most likely need to have.

When your children were small, you probably agonized over how to talk to them about sex. Once that talk was out of the way, you might have thought the hardest part of parenting was behind you. But now that you have a teenager, it's time to revisit the sex talk.

No matter what your feelings about birth control, single parenting, or premarital sex, if you don't talk to your teenager, you won't know what she's thinking. And that's true whether your teen attends religious services regularly or parties with her friends all night. If you want to think of yourself as a responsible parent, you need to take responsibility and talk to your kid.

Questions every parent needs to ask

The teens in the movie,The Pregnancy Pact, and the real life girls behind them imagine that parenting is about joy, love, and the warm embrace of an infant. They can't imagine a world of spit-up, empty bank accounts, dirty floors, midnight diaper runs, and three a.m. feedings. Do you know what your own daughter imagines motherhood to be? You can use this movie to find out what's going on in her head.

There's a fine line to strike here. On one hand, you don't want to glorify motherhood and make it sound so wonderful that your daughter rushes out to get herself pregnant immediately, but you also don't want to make her think that it's so exhausting that she'd be better off never having children. Have a friend or relative with a baby or toddler? Set up some hands-on experience in child care and let your teenager see the highs and the lows of taking care of kids.

It's also important to find out what your teen actually thinks about sex, dating, love, marriage, and birth control. The movie provides a fairly blatant indictment of abstinence-only education, so you can start there. First, consider your own reaction to that message, then set aside your beliefs and commit to finding out what your child thinks.

Remember that teenagers, especially teen girls, are self-conscious about their changing bodies. Your daughter may have an unhealthy body image, or she might be concerned that she's not normal. Reassure her that she's normal, share stories of your own awkward years, and encourage her to come to you with questions.

Make sure that you don't just talk without listening. Give your teen the space she needs to speak openly about what she thinks. If she can't come to you for information, she will go elsewhere to get it. Wouldn't you rather be the person who provides the answers?

Be a safe sounding board for your teen

It can be terrifying for teens to be honest with their parents. Fear of punishment and recrimination can keep them from coming to you. So let your teen know that you are always ready and willing to listen without judgment.

That doesn't mean, of course, that there aren't consequences for actions. But if your teen comes to you to ask about birth control, instead of grounding her until she graduates, take the opportunity to talk about why she wants to have sex. You can -- and should -- still firmly establish rules and clarify the consequences for breaking them, but always try to hear your teen before you react.

If your teen does catch you off guard with a question you're not prepared to answer, tell her that you need some time to think. Let her know that her question is important and you want to give her the right response, but you need to figure out what that response is. It's perfectly fine to admit that you don't have all the answers. Kids, like all of us, respect honesty much more than someone who pretends to know everything.

Tell us: Have you seen The Pregnancy Pact? Share your thoughts below!

Get advice here for talking to your teen about sex:

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