Teen Pregnancy Prevention
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, nearly one million teenage girls will become pregnant each year. This number is slowly trickling down, thanks in part to magazine articles, websites and public service ad campaigns. There's one thing too many of them forget, though—guys! The messages are most often written with girls in mind. But pregnancy prevention isn't just a girl thing. Guys need to get it on it too. And one group of "Wise Guys" is making sure they do.
The Makings of a Wise Guy
Started in 1990, Wise Guys is an award-winning male responsibility program for guys ages 11 to 17. It is only one service of the Family Life Council, a non-profit agency in Guilford County of Greensboro, NC. The council focuses on family life and parent education by providing programs, resources, and advocacy for today's families, educators, and community agencies. Wise Guys plays into that by showing teen boys how they can become responsible men and fathers, but not before their time.
Rick Brown, the director of Wise Guys, says a "Wise Guy" has clear personal values, good decision-making skills, positive self-image, and an understanding of sexuality. Part of that understanding is realizing that sex and all associated with it is a two-way street. "It's critically important for people to realize pregnancy prevention isn't just a female's responsibility," Brown says.
According to a 2003 evaluation of the Wise Guys program, the number of participants who strongly agreed that “It is up to the guy as much as the girl to prevent unwanted pregnancy” rose from 40% before taking the course to 45% afterwards. A recent study published in Pediatrics found that 75% of sexually active teenage boys said they had no plans for pregnancy, but 56% said there was at least some chance they would get someone pregnant in the next six months. That shows the guys clearly have a lack of knowledge when it comes to pregnancy prevention.
The Inner Workings
That lack of knowledge is what stirred Coach Russell McHenry to bring Wise Guys to the 7th grade males at Kaiser Middle School in Greensboro. "They weren't getting the facts," McHenry says. Instead, they'd rely on information from friends and peers, most of which was off-base or just plain wrong. "We wanted to be proactive with getting them the facts," McHenry states.
Some of the guys were eager to learn about sex and relationships; others weren't. Alex Vinson, now an eighth-grader, says, at first, he wasn't too happy about being in the program. "I didn't want to use my PE time for Wise Guys and to talk about sex," he says.
That's common, Brown says. "At first the guys aren't really sure about it, especially if they're giving up PE or something else they really enjoy." But once they actually take part in the program, the guys usually enjoy the experience, he says. Alex agrees and says it ended up being educational and fun at the same time.
Wise Guys participants meet with trained professionals once a week for eight to 12 sessions, which are held at public, private, and alternative schools, community centers, YMCAs, group homes, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other places. Because it's a guys-only setting, the teens have a safe haven to talk and ask questions without feeling insecure around girls.
In addition to pregnancy prevention, there are discussions on what a real man is, self-esteem issues, STD prevention, dating violence, goal-setting, communication, healthy relationships, parenthood, and more.
Nationally, 51% of teen males believe they are not at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease unless they have sex with more than seven partners. Only 20% understand that sex with a single partner presents an STD risk. Source: Kaiser Family Foundation and Seventeen Magazine poll, 2002. Even though Alex took three different sexual education programs during his 7th grade year, he says Wise Guys was most beneficial. Unlike many other programs that beat participants over the head with messages like "sex is bad" and "you'll get a sexually transmitted disease (STD) if you have sex," Wise Guys gives factual information so young males can make their own decisions.
Because it's an abstinence-based program, Wise Guys does put forward abstinence as the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STDs; but they also give a thorough look at the different birth control options. How each method works to prevent pregnancy, proper ways to use it, and failure rates are addressed. Birth control methods that help protect from STDs are discussed, as well.
"They covered things like AIDS, HIV, herpes and crabs, and more," Alex says. "I learned a lot." A 2003 evaluation of the program found that among participants, knowledge of contraception more than doubled, and teens reported having more conversations about sex and related issues with parents and teachers.
The Greensboro program is funded through government and private grants, including funding from the Office of Family Planning (Title X Plan for Male Health Initiative); United Way, and local health foundations. Wise Guys also earns money from selling its curriculum to other organizations.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
The Family Life Council knows that wise guys don't all fit one mold. So they offer Jovenes Sabios and Wise Guys: The Next Level. Jovenes Sabinos is the Spanish-language version of the program and Wise Guys: The Next Level is designed for men 18 and older. The Next Level focuses on providing men with information on healthy relationships, sexuality, fatherhood, and life choices.
There are also opportunities for peer mentors. College-aged males undergo fifteen hours of training, including learning the Wise Guy curriculum, how to conduct activities with groups of teenagers and how to plan a lesson. There's also time spent observing one of the Wise Guys staff members. The students then go on to co-facilitate a session with that staff member, and may eventually do a whole session on their own. "What we're trying to do is give the boys someone who's closer to their age that they can have a one-on-one, positive relationship with," Brown says.
Other pregnancy-prevention programs for males
Project Alpha A collaboration between Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, Project Alpha is a national program consisting of a series of workshops and informational sessions designed to provide males ages 12 to 15 with accurate information about teen pregnancy prevention.
Teens on Track Established by Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey, Teens on Track is an adolescent reproductive health and pregnancy prevention program targeting males between ten and 20 years old.
Santa Cruz County Male Involvement Program Santa Cruz County Male Involvement Program is a school, community, and clinic-based program in California for males ages 13-18 who are considered at risk for becoming teen fathers.
Planned Parenthood of Nassau County's Male Involvement Program PPNC's Male Involvement Program aims to educate high school and college-aged young men in the Nassau county area about their role in the prevention of unplanned pregnancies and STDs.
Spreading the Word
In the last year alone, there were over 1,250 Wise Guys participants in the Guilford County area and more than 250 communities in 40 states using the program. If an educator would like for her students to partake in Wise Guys, it's as easy as picking up the phone. Wise Guys will provide the curriculum needed to host the program in the school and also offers on-site training. If it's a parent interested in having her son enroll in Wise Guys, she should inform the child's school. "From there the school can make contact with us," Brown says. Or parents can contact Wise Guys directly. "If the school doesn't have it, we can help them find another community resource or agency that is running the program."
While most parents don't hesitate to sign the parental consent form required before a guy can participate in the program, Brown says some are hesitant. "There's a fear that we're just going to be talking about body parts and how they fit together," he says. "Once they realize it's really in the context of values and decision-making and we encourage teen guys to talk with their parents, then it becomes something the parents are appreciative of."
Not Just a Teen Thing
Preventing teen pregnancy isn't just a girl thing, a guy thing, or even just a teen thing, for that matter. Parents have to be involved too, says Brown. "I think any parent wants to make sure their teens are making healthy decisions in regards to their sexual behavior," Brown says. But some parents think that sexual education will make their teens want to become sexually active. "Parents need to remember, even if a teenager doesn't go through a program like this, he is going to be surrounded by sexual messages that come from his peers, his neighborhood, and from the media," Brown says. "So it's best they get information that counters those messages that are often not thoughtful and negative."
Probably the most important part of parents being involved is talking with their teens about sex. Some parents are reluctant to start that conversation for fear they'll get something wrong because they don't know the facts themselves. There are many books and services to help parents brush up on what's what. The Family Life Council even has a program, "Talking with Adolescents About Sexuality," that gives parents and educators tips on communicating with teens about sex and relationships in a manner they'll understand and care to hear.
Brown stresses the importance of parents realizing that even if their son does take Wise Guys or another class, one program isn't enough. And neither is having one big "talk". "Sexuality education is an ongoing process," he says. "Teens continue to need programs and talks with their parents and other responsible adults." And that goes for both, guys and girls. "No real progress is going to be made on teen pregnancy prevention until the males are brought into the efforts to stop it just as much as the females are," Brown says. After all, it takes two to tango.
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Tamekia Reece is a freelance writer in Houston, Texas who specializes in sexual health, relationships, and teen issues.
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Submitted by Jim Burchel (not verified) on Mon, 10/31/2005 - 9:27am.
As one of five Wise Guys educators at the Family Life Council in Greensboro, I just wanted to say thanks for the very kind words about our program. We do believe the Wise Guys program is making a difference in our pregnancy prevention landscape here in Guilford County and accross the country. If anyone is interested in hosting a training in your community, please don't hesitate to contact us! We look forward to hereing from you! Thanks again!!
Wise Guys staff...
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