Written by Kathleen Lavey
Apr. 24, 2013 lansingstatejournal.com
In the bright-colored brochure displayed on his computer screen, Justin Griswold, a 15-year-old freshman at Eastern High School, has some frank advice for parents: Talk to your kids about sex.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Kids need to be advised.”
Precious Melton, an 18-year-old junior, aimed the advice in the brochure she created with a partner towards kids.
“Lots of teens won’t approach their parents because they think they might get mad,” she said.
The student-created brochures are part of a long-term effort to reduce teen pregnancy in the Lansing School District. About 6 percent of Lansing teens have been pregnant or fathered a child. Just under half have had sex at least once. Fewer students who get good grades have sex than lower-achieving students.
The two-pronged approach Lansing is taking encourages parents to talk to their kids about sex and reminds kids that, despite what movies, TV and video might be telling them, the majority of Lansing kids don’t have sex while they’re in high school.
“The one thing that kids said, across the board, is that they want their parents to talk to them,” said Patricia Bednarz, a registered nurse with the Lansing School District. “They don’t want their parents to ignore the subject.”
The Eaton Intermediate School District is one of a dozen agencies statewide to share in just under $1.8 million in federal grant money for teen pregnancy prevention, said Wendy Sellers, a registered nurse and health educator who coordinates the effort in Lansing’s three high schools. The program, now in its second year, is funded for three years but could include a fourth year.
“Theoretically over four years we will reach every Lansing high school student, with the exception of those students who, for a couple of different reasons, have not taken the health class,” Sellers said. “It’s a very efficient and cost-effective way to reach a lot of young people.”
Components of the program include:
•A health class curriculum that includes discussions of effective birth control, personal responsibility and healthy relationships. It includes information on the consequences of unprotected sex.
•A campaign to remind students that it’s not the norm to have sex as teens. More than half of Lansing students have never had sex; of those who have, only a third have been sexually active within three months.
•Encouraging parents to talk to their kids about sex and vice versa.
•Training students to present information to their peers in a variety of ways as part of a campaign called “Most Teens Don’t.” Besides the brochures produced at Eastern, students at all three high schools produced videos aimed at parents or teens. Art classes at Everett High School created posters reminding other students that most kids don’t have sex. Students at Sexton performed a play for two nights that included a panel discussion and talkback with actors.
“Many of them wore a pregnancy belly for a week and talked about what it was like to be perceived as a pregnant teen,” Sellers said. “They felt, definitely, like people were looking at them differently.”
Sellers said students who earns As and Bs in school are much less likely to have sex than those who earn Cs and Ds. About 37 percent of higher-achieving kids have had sex, while 64 percent of the lower-achieving kids have done so. Older students also are more likely to have sex than younger ones.
Sellers said so far that the results of the program are encouraging.
For example, surveys on teens’ sexual activity are conducted as part of the Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth every two years. In 2010, about 56 percent of Lansing teens who have had sex reported using a condom during their last sexual encounter. In 2012, 66 percent reported doing so.
Tests taken by Lansing’s health class students before and after they’ve taken the course also show strong improvements in their knowledge, Sellers said.
Clyde Thomas, 14, an Eastern freshman, said he learned a lot during the process of preparing his brochure.
“The message I picked up is, if you’re going to have sex, practice safe sex and have a kid when you’re ready, not before,” he said. “And talk to your parents.”
By the numbers
•6.2 percent: 11th graders in Lansing who have gotten pregnant or fathered a child
• 53 percent: Teens in Lansing schools who have not had sex
• 47 percent: Teens in Lansing who have had sex
• 33 percent: Proportion of that 47 percent who have had sex within the past three months
• •37 percent: Rate of sexual activity among Lansing students who earn As and Bs
• 64 percent: Rate of sexual activity among students Lansing who earns Cs and Ds
Source: 2012 Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth