An East Coast psychologist who specializes in such matters will be in Moab on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-10, to teach parents how they can best communicate about the topic.
Sharon Maxwell, whose practice focuses on childhood and teen sexual issues, will present a talk Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Helen M. Knight Elementary School all-purpose room.
She also will conduct workshops Saturday at noon and 2:15 p.m. at the Grand County Public Library. The session at HMK is for parents and guardians of children up to 7 years old and the second is for those with children from “tween” through early teenage years.
All sessions are open to the public free of charge. They are sponsored by the Moab Community Action Coalition and Personal Responsibility Education Program-Moab (PREP).
“I am an advocate for parents having a language to talk with their kids and share what their values are,” said Maxwell, adding that she is neither pro-abstinence nor anti-abstinence. “It is not about an agenda. It’s about helping parents find a way to figure out how they feel about this and having a sustainable long-term conversation with their children.”
She emphasized that advances in technology present challenges for parents that did not exist a generation ago. Maxwell said she envisions parents on an island in the middle of a raging river “and the river is our culture.”
“You put that computer in your house and you’ve let everything in the world into your child’s bedroom,” she said. “How many of us understand the technology well enough to be informed about what we need to tell our children?”
Sexting – trading sexually explicit images or text message via smart phones – is a particularly serious threat, she said. Maxwell said more than half of children with smart phones have either received or sent a sext message.
“That’s crazy,” she said. “These are 12- and 13-year-olds who think they can get attention that way. Sexting has become a commodity that you add to your resume to be popular. We happily give kids an iPhone but we don’t understand the implications of that iPhone.”
Pippa Thomas of PREP said the topic is important for Grand County parents because Utah Department of Health statistics show the teen birth rate here is higher than other counties and the state average.
“Ask any teen or pre-teen if they know someone who got pregnant or got someone pregnant as a teenager and the vast majority will say ‘yes,’” Thomas said. “Often, the person they know is their own parent or sibling. So teen pregnancy is a perceived norm in our community.”
Maxwell, who is the author of a book about talking with children about sex, says even pre-pubescent girls believe they need to be sexy.
“They believe that will give them prestige,” she said. “It has become an asset rather than something that has meaning in terms of a relationship or love. We have taken their childhood away.”
Maxwell, whose own parents did not talk about sex with her, hopes to show parents how the discussion must evolve as children get older. It will be her first trip to Moab and she said, “It is an honor for me to know there are people who want to do this better.”
Teen pregnancy facts
Pregnancy rates: An average of four out of 100 teenage girls will get pregnant in Grand County.
Effect on education: Teen mothers are 30 percent less likely to complete high school or obtain a GED by age 22. Less than 2 percent of teen mothers receive a college degree before age 30.
Societal effect: Almost 80 percent of unmarried teen mothers end up on welfare.
Source: Personal Responsibility Education Program-Moab.