RECENT reports about an uptick in teen pregnancy in the U.S. should give every parent pause, especially given newly released statistics that we have the highest teen pregnancy rates of any Western industrialized nation.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute reports that for the first time in more than a decade, teen pregnancies were up (3 percent in 2006) and abortions rose by 1 percent following a decline in both from 1994 to 2000.
There's nothing like peer pressure to influence a curious teenager, and when young people aren't well-grounded in a strong value system, they are at serious risk for getting themselves into some precarious situations.
When a 13-year-old confided to me recently that some of his peers are already sexually active, it prompted me to take a much closer look at my two youngest daughters, 13 and 16.
I've been preparing to have "the talk" with them - again. Only this time I'm dreading it because I'm armed with new information that's heavy enough to scare any sane parent half to death. So I'm changing my sex- education strategy and going beyond the moral lecture. I'm also compiling an assortment of grim statistics to incorporate for shock value, which includes how teen pregnancy can ruin a life and that STDs, AIDS in particular, can end one early.
Most of my children's friends will talk to me freely about just about anything, but I'd probably have an easier time meeting the pope than getting my own to talk about sex. Fortunately, my two grown daughters communicate with their sisters regularly, so the abstinence talk that I've been preaching doesn't fall on deaf ears.
Although waiting for marriage before having sex is my preference for them, I also want them to be prepared and understand the risks of pregnancy, STDs and AIDS in case they decide differently. Besides securing them their own gynecologist, I've also put together information for them to read and to discuss with me. The first two articles are about Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the West Philadelphia abortionist now the subject of intense legal scrutiny amid allegations of medical misfeasance. I'm surprised that Gosnell isn't sitting in a cell somewhere after both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI raided his clinic to investigate claims that he'd been writing phony prescriptions amid fetus-filled jars and bloodstained floors.
Far worse are the revelations in a recent Daily News report that Gosnell's Women's Medical Society was linked to the deaths of two women who had abortions there.
Next on my list is the ABC drama "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," which features a story line about the challenges of teenage pregnancy. An upcoming episode includes a guest appearance by Bristol Palin, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's daughter and America's poster child for teen moms, who will play herself.
Last but not the least important thing in my arsenal is my belief that despite the fact that we live in a sex-crazed world, the Creator instructs us to marry first.
I've been talking to my own children about their sexuality since they were in kindergarten, but that doesn't mean I don't still worry about their well-being - especially since they've started clamming up on me.
Do I want them to be sexually active as teenagers? Of course not, but I'm also well aware that despite all of the information that's available to them, teens are still having unprotected sex.
I talk with young people all the time and find that the ones most likely to succeed in life have structure, discipline and, most of all, strong communication with their parents. Two young women, 26 and 19, who work at my local supermarket, told me that although some of their peers had become teenage moms, neither of them wanted to disappoint their parents.
They're proud to be following the good-girl route of completing their education, with plans to marry before they have children.
And therein lies the catch.
Despite the sighs and grumbles that come from my kids that they get sex education in school, they'll keep hearing it from me and their dad as well, until we're blue in the face, or at least until they've completed their education and are grown and on their own.
Fatimah Ali is a regular contributor to the Daily News, and blogs about food at healthysoutherncomforts.com.