Q&A: 'One Word Can Make a Difference' and Other Insights Into Addressing Teen Pregnancy in Latino Communities

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Photograph of Latina young people standing together on a balcony.

According to the latest statistics, Latinas have a higher overall all teen birth rate than the nation at large. To gain insight into how teen pregnancy prevention professionals can tailor their efforts to Latino communities, we spoke with Ann Marie Benitez, senior manager of the Latino Initiative at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

NCFY: People often think of teen pregnancy among Latinas as a cultural issue. How do you respond to that?

Benitez: While disparities exist and 4 out of 10 Latinas get pregnant before the age of 20, teen pregnancy is a challenge for the whole nation. Because it’s still a fact that 3 out of 10 teens get pregnant before the age of 20.

NCFY: How do parents figure into teen pregnancy prevention among Latino teens?

Regardless of race and ethnicity, all parents don’t know what to say about sex or when to start the conversation about sex. We do a public opinion survey every other year, and 88 percent of the general population agrees that parents in general just don’t know what to say and when to start.

When we compared them to other groups, Hispanic teens were more likely to strongly agree that their parents don’t know what to say about sex and when to start the conversation. And the pattern holds true for adults, where 70 percent of Hispanic adults are more likely to strongly agree that parents need help when it comes to talking to their kids about sex.  

Parents are the ones who influence teens the most in terms of their decisions about sex. More than peers, more than popular culture, more than teachers. In fact, 91 percent of Latino teens agree that it’s much easier for them to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more of an open honest conversation with their parents.

NCFY: Do Latino teens and parents talk about teen pregnancy differently than teens and parents from other groups?

We conducted a study called “Toward a Common Future” and we found that there were more commonalities than differences regardless of whether [parents] are Hispanic or not. All parents have high aspirations for their teens. All parents want to see their kids succeed, finish high school and hopefully attend college. They believe it is important to talk to their kids about sex. They also believe it’s important to talk about both abstinence and contraception.

There’s this myth that Latinos don’t like talking about [sex] or don’t like talking about both [contraception and abstinence]. But the fact of the matter is they do think it’s important, they do think talking about contraception and abstinence is really important.

NCFY: Given those similarities, what does it mean for folks who are working in teen pregnancy prevention to be culturally competent with Latino families?

When I talk in Spanish about teen pregnancy prevention, I use more the word of delaying pregnancy for when you’re ready to have a baby and start a future with your family, versus using the word prevention. Because prevention can come across in some circles as something that’s anti-family. And we’re very pro-family. We’re very pro- trying to support families starting in the most successful way so that they can reach their goals and succeed in life for themselves and their children.

NCFY: And it’s such an easy tweak. It’s one word.

Yes, but at the end of the day, it’s still the same. All families want the best for their kids. Just how they respond to one word can make a difference.

Learn more about the campaign's Latino Initiative, including an effort that trains community health workers to use an evidence-based curriculum to prevent teen pregnancy in Latino communities.

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