The Magic Formula: How to Prevent Teen Pregnancies without Explicit Information on Contraception and Condoms

Saras Chung

Our school systems ban us from presenting information about contraception and condoms to our students. How does a program that is proven to reduce teen pregnancies work if it doesn’t address contraception and condoms?

The task sounds impossible: Figure out how to reduce the number of teen pregnancies without discussing comprehensive contraception methods or tactics with students. It sounds like trying to teach a student how to read—without giving them a book. It seems impossible.

What may come as a surprise to many, however, is that there are strategies that accomplish reductions in teen pregnancies without including information on contraception and condoms and meet even the most conservative values.

When well-implemented, Positive Youth Development (PYD) programs have been shown to reduce the number of those who become pregnant or cause a pregnancy regardless of whether or not they are taught about contraception and condoms.

Yes, what sounds like a misnomer has been proven in rigorous studies for some of the most popular youth development programs. One can implement youth programs that prevent teen pregnancy…programs that may or may not directly refer to or teach about comprehensive contraception methods or tactics and still realize positive outcomes for teens. (Whether or not we should teach these strategies is a different question, and a topic for a separate blog post, however.)

It sounds like magic, but I’m about to share why these programs work. The formula is really no secret at all. It encompasses all that we know about teen development and what teens need to keep themselves healthy, surviving, and thriving–outcomes that we all hope to achieve regardless of our work’s focus.

Positive Youth Development (PYD) programs start with a strengths-based view of adolescence. Instead of viewing teens as broken beings that need to overcome obstacles, PYD’s framework upholds that all youth can make positive contributions to their families, schools, and communities. Core components of positive youth development programs :

  • Equip teens with skills in complex decision-making;
  • Help teens determine their core values and principles;
  • Facilitate development in a teen’s ability to analyze situations; and
  • Foster self-regulation.

All of these “ingredients” nurture the development of healthy social and emotional skills. Instead of focusing on issues to avoid, positive youth development initiatives help teens develop a sense of self-efficacy (the belief that they can achieve set goals) and provide them with the support and opportunities to practice these skills in the realms of family, peers, sexuality, academics, and all areas of their life.

In regards to sexual education, when teens do not receive the information in schools, PYD programs discuss generalized physical development and ensure that adolescents gain the courage, motivation, and assertiveness to seek out and talk to a caring and competent adult on topics where they may need more information and resources.

When we teach these types of skills to teens, the “payout” transcends outcomes in teen pregnancy. Effective PYD programming also provides returns on investment in areas of school persistence, academic performance, graduation, and community engagement.

Whether or not you are operating in a setting where teaching comprehensive sexual education is valued, taking a positive youth development approach to reduce potentially destructive sexual behaviors in teens creates dividends for teens beyond one realm of their life.

While, certainly, the ideal is to implement comprehensive sexuality education for teens, PYD programming provides a complement to the comprehensive sexuality education approach–a complement that does indeed see positive youth health outcomes.

-Saras Chung, MSW is a Research and Operations Manager at Wyman.

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