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Program targets teen pregnancy

In recognition of the fifth annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the Kitsap County Health District on Wednesday held two events for teenagers in the northern part of the county designed to encourage them to make the right choices.

“Many times, the hardest thing a teenager can do is stopping in the middle of what they’re doing and thinking before they take action,” said Janis Nixon, parenting coordinator at the Spectrum Community School in Kingston. “But they have choices.”

The choice to have unprotected sex — or to have sex at all — is one choice that can have consequences. Following this, the choice to have the child is one that changes the course of any young life.

Kitsap County Health Educator Candy Cardinal and teen-aged mother Rebekah Heare visited Spectrum and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe to let kids know first-hand what impact the choices will have on their lives. Part of the program was to take a nationally sponsored on-line quiz, while Heare provided tangible evidence (in the form of her 15-month-old son) about the results of those choices.

“I love my son, and I’m glad that I have him,” said Heare, 18. “But if I could go back in time, I would change some of the steps that I took to get here.”

From her own experience, Heare provides another reason why girls may not want to get pregnant, one that appeals to their vanity.

“You all have these great, skinny bodies,” she said. “But when you get pregnant, everything changes. Your hips move, your thighs get fatter, your toes swell up. And you can’t lose the weight.”

The six-question quiz was rudimentary and obvious, presenting simple scenarios for which the participant provided answers to what-if situations before being awarded a score. In all but one of the questions, the “wrong” answer was placed third, so it was easy to land a big score by psyching out the test.

And at Spectrum, the quiz took 15 minutes to load. Which meant by the time it appeared on screen, the kids had already lost interest. But it served its purpose, because it got the kids to talk.

One girl said she terminated her own pregnancy after being forced to do so by her parents.

“A lot of people think that if they get pregnant they can take care of the kid,” she said. “But they can’t. They’re on drugs, or not mentally able to do it. Having an abortion was the biggest mistake I ever made, but it helped me to realize what I’m going to be dealing with when I have a kid. So the next time I get pregnant, I want to be more mature. And I want to be married.”

Several of the boys had a less serious attitude about getting a girl pregnant and what responsibilities it entailed, shrugging dismissively when asked what they would do if it happened.

If a girl didn’t stop a boy from having sex, they were asked, what does that mean? “I would assume she was protected,” one answered.

What if a condom breaks? “I would wear two,” he responded.

And what if the girl was allergic to latex? “I would just tell her to get on the pill and say we would get together in a week.”

Finally, Nixon said, “I don’t mean to single you out unfairly, but you two are the most likely ones here to have kids.”

One of the boys got up and walked away, saying, “You’re just ragging on me.”

But the discussion may not have been a total loss.

“Sometimes they get the message, but they put on a front,” Cardinal said. “If they sound too educated in front of their friends, they might not appear to be cool.”

One boy said he had a pregnancy scare with his girlfriend. While she was relieved, he said he was “ecstatic” at the thought of becoming a father.

“If I’m man enough to have sex, then I’m man enough to have a child,” he said. “If my girlfriend had gotten pregnant, it would suck, but we would work through it. I would find a way to put food on the table, clothes on their back. I would get a job and do what I had to do.”

While this sense of responsibility contrasted his classmates, he still hadn’t thought it through. How would he care for the child if both he and his girlfriend were in school? What impact would it have on his career?

The discussion, as guided by Cardinal, Nixon and Heare, always returned to the twin points of education and communication.

Kids need to know they can screw up their lives (and that of the child) if they have a baby without proper preparation. And a couple deciding to have sex needs to discuss protection methods prior to the heat of the moment.

“It’s a myth that every high school student is sexually active,” Cardinal said. “Many are choosing to wait. Our goal is to get them to the point where they can feel responsible enough to protect themselves. And we should create a culture where it is OK to talk about these things, and respect each other’s choices.”

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