Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Dyer and Hammond is helping young people develop the necessary skills to make healthy decisions through a Sex Can Wait program.
Since its inception in 1993 and its adoption in four city schools the following year, the program has grown to include 23 schools in north and south Lake County and served 8,898 students during 2012-13 alone.
"Although sexual feelings and thoughts are normal for the developing adolescent, they are subject to potentially confusing messages about sexual norms," Linda Kraiko, Franciscan St. Margaret Health senior director of patient services said, adding, "Wrong choices can lead to loss of self-esteem, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy."
As of 2011, the last year for which statistics were available, Lake County had a 17.8 birth rate per 1,000 females aged 15 to 17, compared to Indiana's rate of 16 and a national average rate of 15.4.
Babies born to teen mothers have a greater likelihood of low birth weight and to be born prematurely. Research indicates teen pregnancy affects a community's infant mortality rate, increases the number of single-parent families, increases high school drop-out rates and expands welfare dependency numbers.
"Today's adolescents are becoming sexually active at an increasingly earlier age. The trend isn't surprising, since youth are confronted with sexual situations at every turn – in songs on the radio, music videos, popular sitcoms and television commercials. Even billboards use sex to capture attention or promote a product," Kraiko said.
Instructor Angie Earley uses a video, interactive discussions, homework activities, debates and role-playing in presentations. Student activity notebooks are supplied. The first session addresses self-esteem, values and decision-making, while the second explores communication, family and teen pregnancy. The third session discusses friends, puberty and relationships, while the fourth discusses dating, sexual decision-making, sexually transmitted diseases and goal-setting/life planning.
Parental or guardian involvement is essential to the program as it provides an additional support network of advisers and consultants. It also facilitates parent-child communication on the subject of sexuality and assists parents in clarifying their own values.
The Sex Can Wait component primarily is offered for middle school students, while a Puberty program under its umbrella and designed for fourth- and fifth-graders discusses body parts and basic functions of the reproductive system. A Good Touch, Bad Touch program for pre-school and kindergarten-aged children examines the signs and issues surrounding child abuse and molestation and empowers participants to notify an adult in the event of such an occurrence.
Sex Can Wait was developed by the Union of Arkansas Family Life and Sexuality Education program and purchased for use by Franciscan St. Margaret Health.
For more information, contact Earley, program coordinator, through the Women and Children's Services Department of Franciscan St. Margaret Health, (219) 932-2300, ext. 32098.