A whopping 34 percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20 -- about 820,000 a year. Eight in ten of these teen pregnancies are unintended, and 79 percent are to unmarried teens.
Bill Albert, spokesman and chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, says that all this emphasizes how important it is to discuss relationships, love, sex, pregnancy and family formation with your kids sooner rather than later. "This should be the eighteen-year discussion that never ends," Albert stresses.
Rather than sitting kids down at 14 or 15 and explaining the "birds and the bees" in one long, awkward conversation (which Albert feels isn't effective, anyway), he says parents should start these conversations earlier than they think. "I'm not saying you need to discuss contraceptives with an 8-year-old," he says, "but that is a good time to start discussing what a good relationship is, and how to respect a boy or a girl."
When it comes to communicating with your kids about love and sex, Albert says that it's important to take baby steps and to send small signals over a long period of time. "You would never ignore how a kid does in school from kindergarten to seventh grade, [then] suddenly come up to him in eighth grade and say, 'You have to take school seriously.' That's a message you send kids over years and years," he says. "Discussions about love, sex, pregnancy and family formation are really the same way. It's critical to send age-appropriate signals at different times."
When moms do discuss love and sex, are kids even listening? Yes, says Albert. "All the polls and studies that have been done indicate that the people who most influence teens' decisions about love and sex are not their friends, or their boyfriends or girlfriends ... it's their parents," he explains. "Teens are yearning for your guidance from you, even if it doesn't seem like they are."