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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Taking Action On Teen/Pre-Teen Sexual Activity

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Lucy ODonnell
Lucy ODonnell
Lucy O’Donnell is the Executive Director of the Delaware Adolescent Program, Inc., a statewide school for pregnant and parenting teens. She has over 30 years of experience in the Delaware non-profit sector with a concentration on education. Ms. O’Donnell currently serves on the Delaware Teen Pregnancy Advisory Board, the Association of Fundraising Professionals board and the Huntington Disease Society board as well as numerous state committees.

Let’s face the facts – our kids are having sex!  We no longer have the luxury of pretending that it doesn’t affect our children, our neighborhoods or our bottom lines.   We can accept it and work on making it responsible, safe and appropriately timed sex, or we can continue to watch as Delaware statistics spiral out of control for teen pregnancy, STD’s, consequent high school dropouts and huge tax implications.

Adolescents comprise 13% of Delaware’s population and are the foundation of our next generation of citizenry.  This significant demographic has given Delaware the distinction of  having the 6th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, the 4th highest teen abortion rate, the highest incidence of early sex and teen multiple partner sex, one of the highest STD rates, and one of  the highest early alcohol usages.  Adolescents who start drinking early are more likely to take other risks. These are the kids  who also tend to smoke, use other drugs, and have sex early. And lest you think none of this pertains to YOUR child,  nearly 60% of our high school kids reported having sex against a national average of 48% – we have a teen health crises on our hands, like it or not!

It’s probably nothing that we can’t rationalize with them about, though, right?  Wrong!  While our kids may try to act like adults, research proves that teens, and not just Delaware teens, just can’t make decisions,  weigh consequences, assess risks, prioritize or problem solve like an adult.  Their brains aren’t ready yet.  So when it comes to making lifestyle choices, they may take the path of least resistance.  It doesn’t help any that the chemical make up of a teen is pressing them to seek and test new and stimulating situations. Put the undeveloped brain and the hormonal impetus together and you have a recipe for succumbing to peer pressure and reckless behavior. Teens are also highly vulnerable to the impact of friends, media, and social influences.  In our high tech society, these influences are at their fingertips.

So let’s just accept it and let them work through this phase, right?  Wrong, again, because the effects of their decisions have long term implications for their quality of life, their children’s lives and Delaware’s economy!  Sexual risk taking seems to have a direct association with academic performance.  According to the YRB survey, poorly performing students were more likely to be students who had early sex and multiple partners. These risk behaviors lead to STD’s and pregnancy.  The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) reports that 70 percent of teen mothers drop out of high school and only 30 percent of teen mothers complete high school by age 30.  The children of these teens are nine times more likely to live in poverty.

The children of teen mothers also are more likely to be born prematurely and at a low birthrate, which impacts a host of child related illnesses affecting their quality of life.  Many rely on Medicaid.  They are at higher risk of incarceration and the daughters of pregnant teens are more likely to get pregnant themselves and live in poverty – and so the cycle continues.


So, what can we do? First and foremost, we must acknowledge that teen sexual and related high risk behaviors exist and are at epidemic proportions.  This realization will help to focus us on the fact that we must take action as individuals, as parents, as educators and as policy makers.

Second, we must work as a collaborative community on systemic and policy change starting with the family, education system and state resources.

It may seem cliché, but there is strong evidence that family plays a huge role in the direction of a teen’s sexual risk behavior. This effect cuts across race and socio-economic population