DEAR ABBY: I am concerned about the number of teens who write to you about whether or not to have sex. I am a mother of four, and I'm only 22. My first child was born when I was 14. Only two of my biological children live with me, and I have taken my stepdaughter in as my own.
Teens everywhere should be educated about sex and the consequences of having sex at a young age. Many parents still do not have "the talk" with their children -- leaving it up to the educational system, which is inadequate in this area.
I would like to urge teen parents to volunteer at local schools to educate these teens about what "might" happen. I see more and more teens every day heading down the road I went down, and it scares me.
I was lucky that I now have the chance to further my education and provide a stable life for my children, which, I might add, did not happen until I was already the mother of two and 18 years old. I had to give one child up for adoption, and it was heart-wrenching. To teens out there, PLEASE do not be like me. You might not be as lucky as I was. -- WISER NOW IN THE U.S.A.
DEAR WISER NOW: Thank you for wanting to warn other teens not to venture down the same path that you did. You are right: You are lucky you have a chance to further your education and provide a stable life for your children, because most teenage mothers are not so fortunate. Sadly, only one-third of teen mothers receive a high school diploma, and only 1.5 percent have a college degree by the time they reach 30. (Nearly 80 percent of unmarried teen mothers end up on welfare.)
Although teenage pregnancy, birth and abortion rates in the United States have declined over the last decade, our country continues to have a higher rate of teenage pregnancy than most other developed countries. (It's nearly twice the rate as in Australia or Canada -- and more than four times higher than the rate in France.)
Although we all wish that teens would remain abstinent until marriage, the fact remains that many don't. And those young people need accurate information about how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Parents who leave sex education up to the schools should be aware that since 1996, the federal government has poured $1 billion into abstinence-only sex education programs that do not include complete information on birth control methods or even sexually transmitted diseases.
I have always believed that what people don't know CAN hurt them, and that anyone old enough to ask deserves straight answers to their questions. And that is why I offer a booklet, "What Every Teen Should Know," to answer some of the questions that many teens are afraid to ask their parents regarding sex, STDs, drinking and drugs. Many parents and grandparents have given the booklet to their teenagers or used it to foster discussion.
It can be ordered by sending a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Postage is included in the price.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600