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One On One Promotes Teen Pregnancy Prevention

Photo Credit: Tony Esparza/UPN

Kyla Pratt and Flex Alexander are helping teens avoid becoming parents too soon.
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

One on One is UPN's hit family show. But the show's stars Kyla Pratt and Flex Alexander know that for many teens being 'one on one' can result in starting a family far too soon.

And so can feeling like you're the 'only one' who hasn't had sex.

"The episode we did focuses on being a virgin and the pressure to have sex just to be in what kids think is the in-crowd," says the 17 year-old Pratt, who plays Breanna. "The point of the show is that you don't have to be like everyone else. There are lots of people our age who don't have sex and are still cool. You don't have to be a follower - be a leader."

Alexander knows the perils of peer pressure all too well.

"I went through peer pressure," says Alexander, who plays Pratt's father on the show. "As a guy you just constantly keep hearing how you're not down or cool if you're not having sex. Girls get a lot of pressure from the guys they're dating but now more and more from their friends as well. We wanted to address the issues but also not be too preachy."

"As a teenager you feel that kind of peer pressure all the time about all kinds of issues, not just sex," Pratt says. "The point in this show is that we want kids to not cave in to the peer pressure like my character does - she decides to lose her virginity and it could have been a huge mistake."

But for far too many American teens, it is a big mistake.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reports that more than 850,000 US teens get pregnant annually. The NCPTP's goal is to reduce teen pregnancy by one-third between 1996 and 2005.

And gains are being made in reducing teen pregnancy.

"The good news is that the rate of teenage pregnancy has been on a long-term decline since the early 1990s," says David Landry, senior research associate at the Allan Guttmacher Institute in New York. "The rate of pregnancy among 15-19 year-olds peaked in 1990 at 116.9 per 1000 or about 12%. The most recent data is from 1999 and the rate is 85.6 per 1000 or almost 9%."

Even though birth and abortion rates for teens have been declining, there's room for a lot of improvement.

The United States still leads the fully industrialized world with the highest teen pregnancy rate - often double many countries' rates. Approximately 35% of American girls become pregnant at least once by age 20. Teen pregnancy costs the nation at least $7 billion annually.

"One of the biggest challenges is simply arriving at a consensus on how to combat teenage pregnancy," Landry states. "Other countries seem to have reached a consensus but we have not."

And while the national debate rages, more kids are becoming teenage parents.

"Everyone knows it's best if kids wait to have sex until they are more mature and financially independent," Alexander says. "Abstinence is best but this doesn't always happen in reality. My character went through this - he became a father at a young age so he speaks to his daughter from experience."

The episode, entitled Keeping It, not only deals with peer pressure and pregnancy but also addresses the dangers of STDs as well.

"We wanted this grounded in reality," Alexander explains. "We also wanted kids to listen to the message to wait but if you're not going to wait to use a condom. That's important to me because I lost my brother to AIDS. He passed away in 1997. He was only 33."

"I know what this disease can do," Alexander continues. "This topic was difficult for me but it makes the show more poignant to me. But we also don't get too heavy. We know we need to reach the kids and lecturing them isn't effective."

Defensive strategies

So what can parents do to help teens through the minefield of peer pressure? The NCPTP has a number of tips:

  • Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes
  • Talk with your children early and often about sex, and be specific
  • Present options
  • Supervise and monitor your teens
  • Know your teen's friends and their families
  • Discourage early, frequent and steady dating
  • Take a strong stand against your teen dating someone older
  • Talk to sons as well as daughters about pregnancy

"You don't have to feel pressured into doing something you're not comfortable doing," Alexander advises. "It's not a joke to get pregnant or become a parent. Your life changes radically. I'm a parent now and it takes a lot of time and effort.  But as a teen it is much tougher and it almost always adversely affects your future."

In fact, pregnant teenage mothers are less likely to graduate high school, go to college and more likely to go on welfare. And teenage pregnancy is 'the gift that keeps on giving.' Children of teenage mothers pay the price as well, including:

  • Low birth weight and prematurity
  • Mental retardation
  • Growing up without a father and in poverty
  • Poor school performance
  • Abuse and neglect

"No one is saying abstinence is easy and no one is saying resisting peer pressure is easy," says Alexander, whose wife is currently expecting their second child. "I was celibate a year before I met my wife and we abstained until we got married.  We were both on the same page about sex. We waited and it was the best thing."

Pratt also agrees that abstinence is the best choice and the one she personally advocates.

"The thing kids most need to hear is the best protection is not having sex at all," Pratt says. "And they need to hear from parents or other people that care about them or that they look up to."

According to NCPTP, teens listen to parents more than any other single influence.  The higher the connectedness between parent and teen, the less likelihood the adolescent will become involved in high risk behaviors.

Pratt knows who she is and plans to remain cool under peer pressure.

"I'm a very strong person so people around me know they can't mess with me about stuff I don't want to do," she says. "You have to be strong and believe in yourself."

For more information about the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, click here.

For Planned Parenthood information, click here.

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 11/15/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 11/15/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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