Focus on Pediatrics: To prevent pregnancy, teach teens the 3 Rs

Rights, respect, and responsibility make the grade

As with any informed decision, teens need all the facts to determine when to become sexually active.

"You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t have the information you need. Unfortunately, in today’s world, if kids don’t get good sex education, they rely on the media, their friends, and stories as their frame of reference or their source of information — and it is inaccurate lots of times," says Barbara Huberman, director of education and outreach for Advocates for Youth in Washington, DC.

It’s important to give young people the skills and information they need to make a good, healthy, responsible choice, which could include delaying the initiation of sex until a later age; or for some, waiting for marriage. Teens also need access to contraception and protection. There only are two ways to prevent teen pregnancy: either abstaining from sex or using contraception, she says.

Advocates for Youth teaches that a good strategy for teen pregnancy prevention is based on the 3 Rs — rights, respect, and responsibility. The strategy comes from lessons learned in Europe, where many countries have reduced teen pregnancies, births, abortions, and sexually transmitted disease. According to Advocates for Youth, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world, and 50% of all new HIV infections are in young adults between 15 and 24 years old.

A society wants sexually healthy young people who do not make decisions based on fear, shame, and guilt but with self-confidence, self-esteem, self-respect, and self-responsibility, she says.

When young people ask how they will know when it is right for them to have sex, Huberman tells them that when they have talked to their partner at least three times about the decision, have gotten birth control to prevent pregnancy and condoms to protect themselves from disease, and are proud of the decision, they are ready. They need to be able to tell someone they love and respect about the decision, otherwise they shouldn’t have sex, she says.

Far too often, the focus of education is on the negative aspects of having sex such as sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. Yet young people should be taught that sexuality is a normal, healthy, positive part of who they are as individuals. The focus of education should be on respect in relationships.

Teen pregnancy prevention is a complex issue, says Huberman. Therefore, health care facilities can help address the problem in a variety of ways. Advocates for Youth suggests the following:

  • Promote after-school programs in the community that help young people develop a positive image and self-esteem.
  • Train and support peer educators, who are positive role models in the community, to provide information and access to services for at-risk youth.
  • Provide workshops for parents and other adults on how to teach human sexuality and decision-making skills to youth.
  • Develop adolescent health clinics in community locations to provide specialized health education and services.

Mentoring programs for at-risk youth also are helpful, says Huberman. They provide a positive role model that exhibits behaviors of success and responsibility.

(Editor’s note: May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.)


For more information about teen pregnancy prevention, contact:

  • Barbara Huberman, Director of Education and Outreach, Advocates for Youth, 1025 Vermont Ave. N.W., Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20005. Telephone: (202) 347-5700, ext. 28. Web site: