High school works to combat teen pregnancy

MINDEN - Douglas County seems like an ideal place to grow up but some say the community is experiencing an epidemic that has remained in the shadows.

Teen pregnancy "is a huge problem in Douglas County," said Douglas High School senior Wendy Blackburn. "In the 10th grade, I got out my yearbook and counted all the girls who had gotten pregnant or thought they might have been pregnant or had a baby or got an abortion. There were more than 100 girls."

Her friend, Ingrid Maldonado, a junior at Douglas High, said she can easily walk down the hall and point out every other girl who has gone through the same experience this year.

About 30 people, including many teenagers, attended a discussion about teenage pregnancy prevention in the Douglas High library recently to try to slow the trend.

The discussion and panel was organized by the Pregnancy Prevention Council, headed by DHS counselor Michael Caughlan.

"This year it has just gone off the charts and we don't know why. This is the first year we have run a support group for (girls who have had abortions)," Caughlan said. "Without a doubt, it's the hardest part of my job when a young girl is in my office talking to me about how they think they might be pregnant.

"It's always very sad. No matter what decision they make, there are a lot of lost hopes and lost dreams."

The panel was filled out by Douglas County health nurse Mary Owens, Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School counseling intern Marine Conner, PWLMS health teacher Miki Trujillo, Terrie Roles, who is with Medicaid Maternal Obstetrical Management services, Tammy Taylor and Deborah Van Bruggen with Family Support Council and DHS Principal Bev Jeans, who said she believes it is the parents' responsibility to talk to their child about sex.

"At least once a week I deal with a girl who thinks she is pregnant or who knows she is pregnant and has to make a decision," she said.

"I know a lot of parents of boys say it isn't their problem, but if your son's girlfriend has a baby, it really is your problem because for you that child truly is your grandchild."

The students in Douglas County schools get a six-week sex-education course in their ninth-grade health class.

Taylor and Van Bruggen teach parenting classes for Family Support Council and gave parents tips for easing into awkward sex talks with their teens.

Taylor said she believes all teenagers are getting information about sex but they are getting it in a valueless system - from television, movies and friends.

"It's like having a loaded gun," Taylor said.

She said it's important to know your values about sex and premarital sex before it is time to face the issue with your child.

It is also important to be clear about your values on drugs and alcohol because many pregnancies occur when girls are under those influences.

Caughlan cautioned parents about letting their children date those who are much older than they are because the percentage of pregnancies increases with the age of the male partner.

Van Bruggen joked that she likes to talk to her kids in the car "because they're trapped." It also takes off the pressure to look each other in the eye.

After parents have thought about their values, they should put the results in action. When talking with children about sex or any issue, parents shouldn't feel forced to discuss what they did as a teen.

Taylor said a good opportunity to talk to children is when sex is the subject of television shows or movies that the family watches.

"It is real easy to talk about someone else. It takes a huge burden off this child so they don't have to talk about what they are doing - you are talking about the show or the story in the newspaper," Taylor said.

Taylor said children need boundaries but the rules need to be phrased in a positive way so children understand they are not being punished.

"These rules are so they will be successful. Because it is they who will pay the price, especially in the area of sex," Taylor said.

For example, a rule could be, "The bedroom door needs to stay open when you have friends over," instead of, "You are not allowed to close the bedroom door when you have friends over."

Davelyn Miyashiro of Gardnerville and her husband attended the discussion with their son and many of his friends, all students at PWLMS.

"I know what we went through and I want them to know they can always talk about it. They are great kids and I want them to succeed," she said.

Many who had been involved in the panel said they were happy with the turnout and the active participation of the audience.

The meeting went on so long the school's computer lighting system darkened the room at 9:15 p.m. and forced the end.

"I thought it went really well, when you consider the lack of response of other meetings we have on the subject. It was a real lively discussion, and I think some of the parents really heard what the kids were saying," Caughlan said. "I think we could have gone on for quite a while."

Caughlan said he was pleased with the intelligent, thought-provoking comments many of the teenagers made and credited the existence of the program to them.

"It would have been a different meeting if they hadn't been there," he said.

Caughlan said he'd like the panel to be held twice a year.

"With the help of the community and the students, hopefully, we're going to make a big difference," he said.


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