The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says teen birth rates are falling. That’s good news, because teen parents often drop out of high school and make less money as adults. But teen pregnancy rates are still high in poor neighborhoods. One researcher is tackling the problem by focusing on teen boys.
Sixteen-year-old Bruce García remembers the first time he talked to his dad about sex. It was just a few months ago. He said to him, “'Hey, dad, there’s this girl I like and I want to impress her and stuff like that.'”
And, he said, “it is awkward at first."
Bruce’s dad, Víctor García, said he also felt uncomfortable. “It was the first time I talked to one of my sons about this topic,” he said, speaking in Spanish. He never talked with his three oldest sons about sex and relationships, because he didn’t know how to start the conversation.
But, in June, García got some tips. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a social worker and nurse at New York University, has started a program for dads. “We want them to talk to their sons about their sexual activity and preventing a pregnancy, using a condom correctly and consistently, getting themselves screened for STIs (sexually transmissible infections), including HIV,” Guilamo-Ramos said.
Guilamo-Ramos works with families in the Bronx, New York City’s poorest borough. There, nearly 8 percent of 15- to 19-year-old girls get pregnant every year. That’s nearly twice the rate of Manhattan. Economists disagree about whether these pregnancies cause high dropout rates and poverty, or whether teen parents were at risk of dropping out of school anyway.
“Unfortunately, teen pregnancy often gets framed as being a girls’ issue,” Guilamo-Ramos said, explaining that programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy often focus on mothers and daughters. “Well, boys are 50 percent of the equation.”
Guilamo-Ramos said teens wait longer to have sex and have safer sex if their parents talk to them about it.
Bruce García said his dad has been pretty clear about the issue. “My dad tells me, ‘Just be careful,’” he said. “Like, don’t move too quickly. Don’t escalate things to the point where you’re going to do something really dumb and the next thing you know we’re going to have to talk about whose diapers are we going to change.”
By the end of 2016, Guilamo-Ramos’ program will have reached 800 families. After that, he wants nurses and social workers to take his program and run with it. His goal is to get fathers and sons talking all over the U.S.