SA’s teen-mum syndrome

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: Simone Kley
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi. Picture: Simone Kley

I long for a simple explanation of and ­answers to teen pregnancies, particularly in our schools. I’d like to offer the ­theory that the underlying causes are ­often far from simple and the solutions may be closer than we think.

So what are the causes of teen pregnancies? There are some suggestions that the school-based sex education lessons are not effective and need to be reviewed.

As can be expected, there are those who say teens are also influenced by TV and movies.

In a media climate where sexuality is ever-present, but where consequences like sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies receive little mention, it’s hardly surprising that some people may think television encourages teen pregnancies.

We also hear that some teens knowingly become pregnant ­because they feel no one cares about them. For these teens, a ­baby provides an opportunity to love and be loved.

Some say learners are left unsupervised after school hours – the time when most teen pregnancies occur. After all, the high cost of living may dictate that both ­parents work. They say government agencies could do more to increase funding to ensure schools and community organisations are open for enhanced tutoring and supervised recreation.

Then there is the view that emotionally or physically absent parents, or those who are negligent or abusive, cause serious pain to a teenager. They say a caring adult – a teacher, neighbour, priest or a family friend – can make a huge difference in helping a teen to ­become a happy, self-directed and productive adult.

Are we taking parenthood for granted? Is it because some people think anyone can be a ­parent? Is it because too many people are unfit for parenthood?

So what are the solutions to teen pregnancies? How can we reduce the high pregnancy rate?

Let me go back to my reading.

Research conducted by the US think-tank Search Institute indicates that there are about 40 positive experiences and qualities that ­adolescents need to help them become competent, caring and responsible.

These “developmental assets” include such categories as positive self-image, a commitment to learning and the constructive use of time.

The more “assets” young people have, the greater their resistance to risky behaviour and the greater the chance that the young person will demonstrate positive attitudes and behaviours.

Adults need to take a closer look at how young people spend their time. We need to become more nurturing. And we must take a more supportive role in helping all adolescents make positive choices as they move towards adulthood.

It’s not just about their future; it’s about ours.

Should parents talk to their children about sex, pregnancy and parenthood? Yes.

So here are my solutions. ­Parents are the most important ­influence on their kids’ sexual ­behaviour.

Here’s what we can do as adults and parents to raise responsible kids:

As parents, we need to talk about sex – often and explicitly.

This may feel rather awkward. However, it becomes much easier for you and your children if you find time to discuss stories from the media about sexual stereo­typing, bullying, sexual harassment, contraceptives, abortion and peer pressure.

It is important that, as parents, we share values about teen pregnancies and educate teens that kids raising kids is wrong.

It represents the end of a teen’s dreams for a meaningful life and places a baby at risk for all kinds of problems.

As parents and adults, let us recognise and accept reality. Teens have sex, and it’s our job to ensure they have the information to make informed choices.

Lesufi is education MEC in Gauteng

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