Deterring teen pregnancy with art

February 18, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Unless you've been hiding in a cave for the past few years, the next statement won't be a news flash: Parents and their teenage children want to talk about sex, but aren't quite sure how.

A 2005 survey of about 300 local teens and 150 parents found that even when parents believe they're communicating with teens about sex, too often the message comes across as "Don't do it!"

That's good for those who aren't ready for sex, but it's not enough, especially for a child who is already sexually active. Both parents and teens told surveyors they wanted more taught in the Washington County school system's Family Life classes.

But turning all of that responsibility over to the schools has one flaw: Research shows the biggest influence in children's lives are their parents. And so when dealing with such an important subject, does it make sense to leave the most influential people out of the discussion?


Getting those two groups together -- and communicating, as opposed to "talking at" each other -- is the task facing the Washington County Community Partnership for Children & Families.

To deal with the medical aspects of the situation, the agency recently awarded a $13,285 contract to the Community Free Clinic to provide additional teen pregnancy clinical services from now until June 30, according to Stephanie Stone, the partnership's director.

But even though medical attention for sexually active teens is important, teaching parents better communications skills is also a top goal, Stone said.

To do that, Melissa Nearchos, the partnership's project coordinator, said two grants (of $20,000 and $19,300) have been awarded to the Authentic Community Theater (ACT) to do a variety of things, including a two-day event to improve parent-child communications.

To find out about ACT's plans, I spoke to Niki Perini, the group's artistic director. To those who know of her work with Girls Inc. and local children's musicals, it will be no surprise that her group isn't putting all of its eggs in one basket.

In Perini's vision, parents would know what to say to their children before the young ones begin to ask about "where babies come from."

"We have to know what to talk about when. So many of us don't know what to say, so we don't talk about it at all," she said."

For some help, she's turned to Dr James Childerston, a Hagerstown clinical psychologist and a nationally-known author. Perini said Childerston will start by doing sessions for interested parents at some of the area's largest companies.

Parents who attend those will be encouraged to participate in "Know Love, Know Power: The Retreat," which will be held on two days at Hagerstown's First Christian Church at 1345 Potomac Ave.

The sessions, open to adults, teens and pre-teens, will be held on Friday, May 9, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and on Saturday, May 10, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To register, go to the following Web site:, phone 301-491-7228 or e-mail

"The challenge is to bring a message to a family audience that will begin the conversation. We know kids have questions and we know parents have things to say. They just need the tools to say them," she said.

The second grant will involve youth development, by encouraging middle-school children to help create a production with an original script, music and choreography, Perini said.

"We want school-age youth to design a project that will help them tackle good decision-making and look at how you're redefining yourself as you're changing," Perini said.

Deciding what your values are and how you're going to define yourself are important, Perini said, because making the transition from childhood to the teen years involves a lot of turbulence "and everyone you're hanging with is turbulent, too," she said.

If your child is interested in performing, auditions for "Know Love, Know Power: The Concert" will be held Saturday, March 1, from 9 a.m., to 9 p.m., in CLR 111 in the Classroom Building at Hagerstown Community College.

The concert itself will be held on Friday, May 9, at 8 p.m. at The Maryland Theatre on South Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown.

ACT will also be participating in "Tough Talk," a family health forum at Robinwood edical Center. Sponsored by the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of Washington County, it will deal with subjects that are tough to talk about, including pregnancy prevention and teen-heath decision-making.

It will be held on Thursday, May 8, starting at 4:30 p.m. in Suite 142 at the Robinwood Medical Center. The cost is $10 per person and will include a meal. Make checks out to Washington County Hospital and send them to 251 E. Antietam St., Hagerstown, MD 21740. Can't afford it? Call 888-803-1518 for scholarship information.

Certainly, many concerned parents will attend these events. But, I asked Perini, what about the parents who should attend, but won't?

"For us, it's important to try to take baby steps and it's important that what we're doing be seen as something for everybody's kids, because everybody's at risk," she said.

Are we making progress as a community? Based on one year's statistics, it's tough to say. On the Maryland Vital Statistics Web site, it shows that Washington County logged 203 teen births in 2006, compared to 196 in 2005.

Of those, 43 were to mothers 15-17 -- compared to 76 for that group in 2005. For mothers 18-19, the 2006 figures were 157, as opposed to 117 the year before.

What that means is unclear, except for one thing -- it's too early to declare victory or even to say we've achieved significant progress.

Bob Maginnis is
editorial page editor of
The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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