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- Kari Svendsen
This paper touches on the importance of providing public awareness and education to our educators, parents, and students so that we reduce the number of girls that have onset puberty. It also provides information on how we can teach parents to be supportive during adolescents, which can be a difficult and confusing time for students, which is more important than ever. With the improvement of sexual education programs taught in our school systems, parents and teachers can adequately prepare students for the negative effects of sexual activity before it is too late. The numbers of adolescents engaging in sexual activity, STIs and teen pregnancies can be reduced. Adolescent Sexual Development
Sexual maturation and growth spurts both accompany puberty and can be a difficult and confusing time for adolescents, especially with children hitting puberty at an earlier age than ever. It is essential that adolescents have the support of their teachers, parents, and physicians at this transitional time in their lives. Even though sexual education is taught in our school systems, these students are inadequately prepared and a staggering number of students are exposed to sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy; not to mention the emotional distress that adolescents will endure.
It takes years for the average adolescents’ body to go through the process of sexual maturation. The onset of puberty is not triggered by any particular event, but rather a multitude of things such as stress, genetics, nutrition and diet as well as the amount of body fat to name a few (Gentry, p. 1, 2002). There is also a growth spurt that is brought on by puberty when the skeletal system grows rapidly. This can occur in girls starting at age 10 and boy at age 10.5; this growth spurt usually ends around 19 for girls and 20 for boys (Headlee, p. 7, 2010). Hands legs and feet are first and then the growth spurt will hit the torso; in girls, the sexual hormone will attribute to broader hips. These growths spurts can be an awkward time for adolescent children as their bodies are evening out.
Some researchers say there is no external cause for early onset puberty, while others say different. Some researchers have linked obesity as a contributing factor (Parent, p. 670, 2003). The inactivity and poor diet of our youth is putting them at risk for a higher percentage of body fat which leads to premature puberty. Environmental chemical have also been linked to an onset of puberty. Chemicals are added to almost all commercial cleaning products to include: shampoo, teething toys, bottles. Chemicals can also be in the food that adolescents eat. Another onset of puberty can be linked to the absence of a girl’s father; researchers have shown that the longer the girls has been away from her father the earlier she will start her first menstrual cycle (Parent, p. 671, 2003).
Research findings show that girls who are ill-prepared for the physical and emotional changes brought on by puberty will have the most difficult time (Gentry, p. 1, 2002). This means that providing adolescents a stable and encouraging environment with family, teachers, and physicians is crucial. Beth Ross, Director of student services at Rockdale County School, expresses her concern of parent and teacher involvement after uncovering a syphilis outbreak in her school system.
Rockdale County is a small, close-knit community, made up of wealthy families in a desirable part of Atlanta. Here, at least 19 females and 4 males were part of the syphilis outbreak (Ross, 1999). Through interviews and investigations it was learned that at the center of the outbreak were a group of young girls that were no older than 16 (Ross, 1999). The sexual activity would sometimes be accompanied with the use of drugs and alcohol, and the sexual interactions were with slightly older boys. These interactions would take place at one of the girl’s home when her parents were not in the house. These girls not only had sex with each other but also with all of the other boys in an open and communal environment.
Beth Ross has been a counselor for over 16 years and says that the needs of children into today’s world are the same as 16 years ago when she started; they have not changed (Ross, 1999). These children have the same needs, the only thing that has changed is that both sets of parents are now working and have become too “busy” (Ross, 1999). She also points out that the young girls, who are at such shockingly young ages, that are sexually active and it stems from being asked as well as needing to feel loved and wanted. This comes from something lacking in the childhood for them to desire to become sexually active at such a young age. She mentions that these students are lacking limits and structure in their lives, lack of parents being there for them to say this is how far you go and what is acceptable. Sixteen years ago parents were more adamant about what children were and were not allowed to do so there was no question in their mind what their limits were. Some parents say that they did not like the way they were raised and that they would never treat their child the way they were treated, but this is when the structure they hated as a child goes out of the window and where rebellion begins. Rules and structure are crucial to children.
After the follow-up interview was conducted at Rockdale County, some 6-12 months later, a few of the girls were still sexually active and also still used drugs. There were just a few of the girls that said they were no longer sexually active due to the stricter rules and supervision enforced by their parents. The girls interviewed all seemed to agree that there was still a lack of communication with their parents and that no real action had been taken since the outbreak occurred. By the end of the follow-up interviews and investigation 8 of the over 20 girls were pregnant (Ross, 1999).
An extensive study has been conducted by Selma N. Caal, in 2008, on high-risk sexual behavior. Caal reported that youth with highly cohesive families and low peer norms reported low risk sexual behavior; however, youth with highly cohesive families and high peer norms reported high risk sex (Caal, 2008). Youth coming from low cohesive families did not base their sexuality on their peers. If youth perceived that the peers were okay with and engaging in sexual behavior then they were more likely to be sexually active themselves (Caal, 2008).
During adolescence teens try to separate from their parents and become closer to their peers, so parental communication regarding sexual behavior is crucial to the youth’s sexual activity. The more time that parents spend away from their children, the more room for risky behavior. In a time when dual parents are working full-time jobs is it harder than ever to stay in communication and enforce rules.
Age also plays a factor with risky sexual behavior; as older youth were more likely for this behavior, possibly because of their sexual maturity level (Caal, 2008). Also media plays a very strong role in adolescent sexual behavior as they are exposed to it constantly, and can send messages that high-risk sexual behavior is welcomed and accepted.
The age of youth engaging in sexual activity drops each year and is a great concern which proves that our youth should be better educated and monitored not only at home but also in the school system. The numbers of high-risk sexual behavior adolescents could be significantly reduced by educating our youth and holding them more accountable. Advocate for Youth reports the effectiveness of sexual education in schools has contributed to lower numbers in teen pregnancy, lower numbers of youth engaging in unprotected sex, and also delayed initiation of sexual behavior altogether (McKeon, 2006).
Sexual education seems to be failing as a whole, as there are 1 million people a day who acquire a sexually transmitted infection (STI) (WHO, 2013). We are failing our youth and our world at a rate of 30 million people a month, 360 million people a year (WHO, 2013). Our adolescents account for nearly half of these numbers. STI’s are causing major infertility problems and in some cases even death. They are also costing billions of dollars annually.
Unprotected sex and teen birth is still a problem; however, we are moving in the right direction as a 9 percent drop was recorded from 2009-2010 (Hamilton & Ventura, 2012). This puts us at a record low rate of 34.3 births per 1000 girls between the ages of 15-19 (Hamilton & Ventura, 2012). Although numbers are lowering, this is a still a major concern for both mother and child as they are rarely able to financially support themselves and cost the public 10.9 billion dollars annually (Hamilton & Ventura, 2012).
These staggering numbers can change if we start providing The Development Assets, created by the Search Institute, to our youth; this is a guarantee. These assets are 40 research-based encouraging qualities that affect adolescent development. By providing them to our youth, we are helping them to become caring, responsible, and productive adults. These assets have be proven to work and are quickly becoming the most positive youth development in the United States and globally.
All across the world and now in other countries it is apparent the positive affect that the assets have been for all cultural and socioeconomic groups (Institute, 2007). Also, high-risk behavior is better predicted by the level of Developmental Assets one has, than their family, resources, or location. However, like with Rockdale County, most of our adolescents will have less than 40 Assets (Institute, 2007).
The Developmental Assets include things such as family support, positive family communication, and service to others as well as integrity, honesty, and restraint to name a few. These assets are a stepping stone and a guideline for parents. They can especially be used in a “busy” lifestyle with both parents working full-time jobs. This checklist allows no excuses for parents who are at a loss and do not know what to do with their child. It also teaches parents and teachers how to hold the children responsible and how to discipline the children instead of allowing their actions to continue.
These assets can be appropriately used from the time they are 3 years old through adolescence, and would help in never seeing situation like Rockdale County arise. The more Developmental Assets that a person is exposed to the more likely they are to thrive and be successful. Researchers show that parents can set their children up for a bright future and almost guarantee that they will not be involved in high-risk behavior such as drug and alcohol use, sexual activity and drug use, by providing more assets to their child (Institute, 2007). When our adolescents have more assets they are more diverse, have better opportunities and less likely to become involved in high-risk behaviors.
There are also a few Developmental Assets that can possibly help our children to prolong their puberty. One external asset of empowerment is safety, which can be considered as the normal external world but also internal. Parents are responsible for what their children use as far as cleaning products and the food they eat, which both contain chemicals and can increase onset puberty. It is the parent’s responsibility to provide safe and desirable products and food for their children. This also leads to obesity, as it can promote onset maturation.
Another external asset is constructive use of time; this means that children should participate in weekly sports club or organization within the school or community. By keeping our children active there will be less room for obesity. Another contribution to onset maturation was the absentee father, which is also covered in the assets in the support section; it states that family should provide children with a constant loving and supporting relationship. Some reasons for an absent father cannot always be avoided; however, providing the child’s father that just chooses to be absent may be swayed if he were introduced to the determent it would cause his daughter. Again, following the Developmental Assets will not only allow us to prolong puberty in girls but also allow us to provide a promising future for our children. Before researching and learning more about sexual behavior in our youth I would have said that if there were sexual education classes in our schools that they should be kept to a minimum and not go into much detail on the topic, this is because of how I grew up. As a family and a school we were not open about our sexuality at all, nor did we have sexual education in our school system. And I personally, did not engage in high-risk sexual behavior nor did I know it was a concern. This could be contributed to my own Developmental Assets that my parents provided me with as there were very few, if any, that I was not given.
My views have changed drastically on the need for better and more thorough sexual education programs in our schools after seeing the drastic change in numbers of teen pregnancy and STIs. We have to prevent the age of youth engaging in sexual activity dropping each year; it is a great concern and our responsibility to educate them in schools. We should provide the parents and teachers education classes addressing these issues as they may not have been educated themselves. Schools should make information more available to parents and maybe they will see the importance of this issue. Brochures that address concerns and causes for onset puberty would be beneficial to parents, and also providing information to parents at PTO meetings, and other meetings when they already have the parent’s attention. Our schools are concerned with meetings about budgets and addressing lunch programs and ignoring important issues such as sexual development. It is one thing to teach our students, but we must also teach their parents.
Advocate for Youth reports the effectiveness of sexual education in schools has contributed to lower numbers in teen pregnancy, lower numbers of youth engaging in unprotected sex, and also delayed initiation of sexual behavior altogether (McKeon, 2006). I think this proves that sexual education in our schools without a doubt needed.
Schools can provide sexual development information at correct ages instead of local news and radio stations trying to stop the spread of sexual activity and STIs. I know now just riding in the car with my daughter in the middle of the day listening to the radio with my daughter, there are condom commercials. She is 7 years old and should not be exposed to that for many years to come. I think the internet and television are far worse and if we are not around to monitor our children from a young age then they will be more likely to partake in these kinds of activities. School is the place to educate our children where they can ask questions and learn from adults, not just assuming on their own and among their peers.
We can also offer students counseling and behavioral interventions, hopefully before, but especially after children like Rockdale County, as this would provide both parents and students to find out the underlying cause for wanting to engage in sexual activity. If counseling and treatment were more readily available student would not continue to engage in inappropriate behavior and quite possibly be prevented from becoming teen parents as we also saw with the Rockdale county students.
These counseling sessions and treatments can be a more intense version of the sexual education classes in our schools that can provide students who are already sexually active and those who want to become sexually active. They can provide both pre as well as post STI test counseling so that teens can recognize symptoms of these infections, be encouraged to let their partner know, and not go untreated. Also, counseling and intervention should use condom promotion to influence students to practice safe sex and lower the risk of teen pregnancy.
By providing public awareness and education to our educators, parents, and students we reduce the number of girls that have onset puberty. Parents being taught to be supportive during adolescents, which can be a difficult and confusing time for students, is more important than ever. With the improvement of sexual education programs taught in our school systems, parents and teachers can adequately prepare students for the negative effects of sexual activity before it is too late. The numbers of adolescents engaging in sexual activity, STIs and teen pregnancies can be reduced.
Caal, Selma M. (2008) “Adolescent Sexual Development: Contextualizing a Cognitive Process in the Decision to Engage in Protective or Risky Sexual Behavior.” George Mason University.UMI. Web. 14 Dec. 2013. <http://denhamlab.gmu.edu/Theses and Dissertations PDFs/Caal2008.pdf>.
CDC. (2011). Effective HIV and STD Prevention Programs for Youth.Sexual Behaviors.http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/effective_programs.htm
Gentry, J. (2002). Developing Assests. Washington: American Physcological Assosication.
Hamilton, B., & Ventura, S. (2012). NCHS Data Brief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db89.htm
Headlee, K. (2010). Growth and Development, Ages 13 to 17â€”What You Need to Know. Developing Adolescents, 1, 7. Retrieved December 16, 2013, from http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/FCS/FCSPubs/Fact_Sheets/Growth_and_Development_13-17.pdf
McKeon, B. (2006). Effective Sex Education. Advocates for Youth. Retrieved December 19, 2013, from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications450
Parent, A. (2003). The Timing Of Normal Puberty And The Age Limits Of Sexual Precocity: Variations Around The World, Secular Trends, And Changes After Migration. Endocrine Reviews, 24(5), 668-671.
Parke, R. D. & Gauvain, M. (2009).Child psychology: A contemporary viewpoint(7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Ross, B. (1999). The Lost Children of Rockdale County. PBS. Retrieved December 21, 2013, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/georgia/interviews/beth.html
Institute. (2007). 40 Developmental Assets. Search Institute. Retrieved December 12, 2013, from http://www.search-institute.org/what-we-study/developmental-assets
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). (2013). WHO. Retrieved December 20, 2013, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs110/en/
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