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OC Star Helps Raise Awareness About Teen Pregnancy

The OC's Navi Rawat shares her views on teen pregnancy.
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

As Theresa on the Fox hit The OC, Navi Rawat found her character unexpectedly pregnant. In real life, Rawat is far from the troubled teen she portrays and feels that kids need the correct information to make the right choices in life.

"Personally, it was really difficult for me to portray this character and her lack of precaution, because I feel so strongly about protecting yourself not only from pregnancy but also from sexually transmitted diseases," says Rawat, who also starred in House of Sand and Fog with Ben Kingsley. "It is definitely not something I could see happening to me. I am extremely responsible."

But responsible can be less than dramatic for television purposes.  And this "mistake" was written into the season finale that forced star Benjamin McKenzie's character to leave his new home in Orange County.

"Insofar as the issue of teen pregnancy was depicted in the show, you see two people who absolutely did not make the best choices and who were not responsible about having sexual intercourse," Rawat states. "It's important that young people who watch the show understand what the real consequences are. When you're young, you have this idea that you're invincible and nothing can happen to you. But that is not how life is.  You have to respect yourself and protect yourself."

Fortunately, more and more teens seem to be tuning in to the message.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the teen pregnancy rate in the US has declined 28% between 1990 and 2000.

"The declines are due a variety of things," explains Robert Blum, William Gates professor and chair of Population and Family Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. "There has been a growing awareness that certain sexually transmitted infections can kill you.  This has had a significant impact on behavior.  There has also been a change in the economic well-being of young people. More kids see options so there's a sense of future and possibility that perhaps previously wasn't there."

And in many circles Blum says there is a growing attitude that it isn't cool to have a baby at a young age and that it may in fact "screw up your future."

Pregnancy complications

Rawat points out that the pregnancy not only limits her character's choices in life but also negatively affects several families and relationships.

"There is so much information out there about safe sex and so many forms of birth control that I hope kids who watch the show will take it to heart and see how difficult it is for these characters to deal with this pregnancy and how it affects everyone around them as well," Rawat says.

While teen pregnancy overall has declined, American teens are still far too adept at getting pregnant.

AGI reports that the United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western industrialized world. Approximately 34% of women become pregnant at least once before age 20 - or about 820,000 women annually.  Seventy-nine percent of these pregnancies are to unmarried teens. The annual cost of teen pregnancy to the American economy is estimated at $7 billion.

But the cost is not just economic but also one of lost human potential and quality of life.

Studies show that pregnant teenage mothers are far less likely to continue their education, graduate high school or go to college and are more likely receive welfare. But the price is paid again by the children of teenage moms. Among the challenges these infants are at greater risk for are:

  • Low birth weight and prematurity
  • Mental retardation
  • Growing up in poverty
  • Poor school performance
  • Abuse and neglect

To avoid teen pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted diseases, Blum shares four keys pieces of advice.

  • Make a proactive decision about whether or not you are going to engage in sexual intercourse. "It should never be something that is done to you," states Blum, who specializes in adolescent medicine.
  • If sexual intercourse is something you choose to do, then protect yourself against the major health risks such as HIV/AIDS, STDs and pregnancy.
  • Never assume that by "knowing" your partner that he or she is not infected. "You're likely to be wrong," Blum says.
  • Contraception used sometimes - works sometimes. "If you are going to engage in sexual intercourse, you need to use contraception always," Blum recommends.

Parental guidance suggested

While The OC features some of television's sexiest, most admired young stars, parents have far more influence than the show, popular culture or their child's peer group.

"Mom has the greatest influence," Blum says. "The second greatest influence is dad and the rest of the family. Parental influence is huge and parents discount it at their own peril. You have to continue to talk to your kid. They may never let you know they are listening but keep talking."

Rawat says keeping communication channels open was really important to her growing up.

"I come from a very different background than my character," states Rawat, who will appear in the USA network's Thought Crimes later this year. "I had a very strong family that guided and supported me.  We talked at home about sex. It was not something that was left unsaid. You have to have an honest dialogue with your kids. Just saying 'no' is not enough.  Kids need information so they can make good decisions."

And Blum says consistency in the message is key.

"Kids listen to the music as well as the words," Blum says. "If the music - or your behavior - doesn't line up with the song you are singing, then they are going to discount the song. Kids learn from their parents. Parental influence is not always positive, but it is always powerful."

Blum points out that being involved in your teenager's academic life has perhaps the most surprising impact of all.

"The best thing we can do is arm our kids with a good education," Blum says. "Kids who do well in school are less at risk for teen pregnancy. Kids who feel connected to their school are less at risk.  Parents caring about and being involved and hands on in their child's education is very important. Being involved has a direct impact not just on your child's education but also their sexual behaviors and their outcomes."

Rawat gives good grades to her show's depiction of the teen pregnancy issue and hopes it will help kids and parents begin long overdue dialogues about the realities of becoming sexually active.

"Love yourself and take care of yourself and be responsible," says Rawat, who looks forward to returning this fall to The OC. "It really is about honoring yourself - respecting yourself and your integrity."

For more information about teen pregnancy, click here. (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy)

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: 7/5/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 7/5/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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