By: Kathy Turnowchyk, M.Ed, Senior Program Manager, AccessMatters
Early in my career, I received a call at work from a young woman in crisis. She asked where she could place a baby for adoption. When I asked how far along her pregnancy was, I learned she had delivered her baby the night before in her dorm room…without the help of a doctor, midwife, hospital, prenatal care, or family support. Fearful that her parents would find out and make her feel ashamed, she refused my requests to seek immediate medical care for her and her baby’s health.
Although some parents talk openly and honestly with their teens about sex, many spend more time focusing on how to prevent their teens from having sex. In doing so, they avoid helping their youth to understand the positive aspects of sex and physical pleasure. They avoid answering young people’s questions about puberty, romance and sex, and birth control. Many parents believe incorrectly that talking about these topics will make young people have sex, while avoiding these topics will keep their young person a virgin for longer.
The truth is that young people who are less knowledgeable about these things are more likely to have sex and to experience a bad consequence, like an unplanned pregnancy. For foster children, LGBTQ teens, or those from non-accepting families, etc. – the information gap and bad outcomes are even greater. Like that young woman with a newborn I talked to early in my career, young people who learn early that their parents are not reliable resources for sexual health concerns are likely to feel lots of shame and stigma and may not seek help when they need it.
Askable Adults can help!
What is an Askable Adult? If you interact with teens, you could be one. Askable Adults are adults who are trained to talk openly with teens. They learn to listen carefully and non-judgmentally, and they provide information and referrals about sexual and reproductive health. Askable Adults are trained to be more approachable and knowledgeable about sexual and reproductive health care. This does not mean that they need to know everything in the universe about sexual health. But, they are willing and able to talk to teens and to use strategies that will help teens feel supported.
AccessMatters, a local reproductive health non-profit organization, runs a program called Askable Adults Matter. This training teaches youth-supporting adults how to become an Askable Adult. Participants learn how to have honest and respectful conversations with youth about sexuality, how to support teens in making healthy decisions about their sexuality, how to give non-judgmental advice, and how to provide referrals to community resources. Participants discuss sexual behavior, decision-making and adolescent development, referral resources, and legal, professional and ethical criteria to determine boundaries.
Imagine if the teen who called me had encountered an Askable Adult somewhere in her life. Imagine if someone had appeared with whom she could have had honest and respectful communications with and who could have helped her make healthy and safe decisions. How might her story have turned out differently? She may have delayed sex. She may have used birth control. If she engaged in unprotected sex, she may have used emergency contraception. If she had become pregnant, she may have accessed information and guidance for her pregnancy options so that she could make an informed choice. She may have received prenatal care and delivered her baby in the safety of a healthcare setting.
Imagine the difference one Askable Adult could have made for this teen – and many others in Philadelphia and across the country.
As parents, it’s essential for you to communicate with your children throughout their lives about sexuality and healthy relationships. But, it is also important to make sure that your son or daughter has other trusted adults they can talk to. These may be aunts/uncles, teachers, coaches, or trusted family friends.
Many high schools in Philadelphia have Health Resource Centers, which are confidential places in schools where students can receive counseling and education, condoms, and referrals to community-based providers for sexual and reproductive health services. Find out whether your child’s high school has a Health Resource Center and ask them who the Askable Adults are in their life. Better yet, become one yourself!
Interested in learning more about the AccessMatters Askable Adults Matter training? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.