Peer Education: The Power in Choice
Choice [CHois] noun: an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.
Decisions, decisions, decisions – we make hundreds of them every day! Often, we take our right, power, and opportunity to choose for granted. That is, until someone challenges our decision-making by restricting our choices.
As adults, we are outraged at the thought of someone stifling our ability to choose. Yet, when it comes to teens, our society tends to disregard teens’ voices and ability to make decisions within their own lives. While teens do receive guidance from caring adult figures in their lives, teens also have the capacity and ability within themselves to make good and healthy decisions that will help them become successful adults.
Denying teens the opportunity to exercise safe decision making can create an environment where teens are driven towards risky behaviors, including sexual behaviors that contribute to sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies. Despite a decline in teen pregnancy rates over the past few years, the U.S. pregnancy rate among youth aged 12-19 is one of the highest in the developed world. What makes this troubling is that teen pregnancy is closely linked to other critical social issues—poor birth outcomes, poverty, lack of education, and exposure to physical or emotional abuse.
Admittedly, sometimes teens do not make the best decisions – none of us have perfect decision making skills. But, there is a way to help teens sharpen their decision making skills and grow more confident in their own choices… give them accurate information, a clear understanding of the consequences of risky behaviors, and extensive training on how to influence positive behavioral and social change! The way to empower teens to make healthier decisions for their lives through engaging them in creative programs like peer education.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio engages 45 teen women from across Franklin County in a peer education program to provide medically accurate, non-judgmental sexual health information for the prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). Since comprehensive sexuality education is not a standard part of all Ohio health-education curriculum, training peer educators to help their friends better understand and advocate for their own sexual health choices is cruicial. PPGOH Peer Educators are taught to enhance their peers’ decision making skills through conversations about abstinence, contraception, positive behavioral changes, healthy relationships, and positive self-esteem. They enlighten their peers not only about the critical set of choices regarding their sexual health, but also engage their peers in advocacy for women’s rights and related social concerns in their community.
Through both one-on-one conversations and classroom experiences these young ladies make sure their peers have the most up to date information about what they are up against and know the correct choices to reduce their risks of unintended pregnancies and STI’s. Peer Educators maintain a Facebook page to encourage teens well outside of Franklin County to practice positive behaviors, and are able to lead their friends to an array of digital education tools designed just for them. Teens also can access a chat/text program that allows them to ask urgent questions to trained experts when they need fast, confidential assistance at www.plannedparenthood.org/chat or by texting 774636.
The Peer Education Program operates on the premise that if adults don’t give teens the opportunity to practice making good choices now and support them in that process, why would we expect them to make healthy sexual choices later—whether that be to use a condom correctly or abstain all together from sex. Peer education is so vital—we train teens to discover their own voices and with honest information, make more responsible sexual health and relationship choices.
In celebration of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, I hope you will be inspired by the young, brilliant and ambitious teen women like our peer educators, and find ways to empower the teen women in your lives to make intentional, informed choices to be happy, healthy, and in charge of their futures.
For more information about Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s Peer Education Program, or for help figuring out how to help your teen develop strong and healthy decision making skills, check out one of these online resources:
Written by Natasha Ward and Constance Dunlap, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio
for the latest blog posts