What does it mean to be a parent?

by Jayne M.

Jayne is a teen writer who is part of the Females Against Violence Education Group based in San Francisco. We asked this group to write about their thoughts on topics related to pregnancy, contraception, teen health, and teen rights. The thoughts below do not necessarily represent those of the National Center for Youth Law.

I’m not a parent yet, but what I believe makes a good parent is dedication, patience, and, most importantly, love. I want to make sure I discipline my kids but also show them lots of love. I think sometimes new parents don’t truly understand the responsibilities, effort, and sacrifice they have to put in. There’s more than one factor to parenting: finances, education, values, culture, etc. Parenting is challenging and it’s a huge learning experience. 

Some of the most common challenges are those that have to do with directly meeting the basic needs of a child and their parent. For example, I’ve watched my cousin, a teen mom, struggle with not being able to buy diapers for her baby. She quit school not because of the baby but because of lack of resources to support her while she was parenting. The lack of resources really affects her now. She is having a hard time finding a job because she doesn’t have a babysitter. She can’t meet some of the basic needs she has for herself or her baby, and it is really stressful for her. 

Even though parenting can be stressful and difficult at times I think there are perks to it too. Some of these perks are coming home to a baby’s love and being able to pass down traditions, values, and beliefs to another person. Most importantly, it is a new opportunity to create new cycles, and the bonding love you create and have. Everyone chooses their path but I believe parenting is one in which you will learn so much and change for the better.

Teens Have a Right to Privacy Too

By Julia A.

Julia is a teen writer who is part of the Females Against Violence Education Group based in San Francisco. We asked this group to write about their thoughts on topics related to pregnancy, contraception, teen health, and teen rights. The thoughts below do not necessarily represent those of the National Center for Youth Law.

Young people have the right to choose what sexual behaviors they engage in, and they also have the right to keep that decision private. But sometimes, young people butt heads with their parents on this issue, who think they know their child well enough to say a teen isn’t ready for a sexual or physical relationship. And by ignoring the fact that young people do engage in sexual behavior sometimes, parents put their teens at risk by not letting them talk about effective ways to protect themselves against STIs and pregnancy.

The truth is, sex may not be as special or as serious to you as it may be to others, and only you can make the choice about the role sex plays in your life.  Sex is normal and healthy, and at whatever age you’re ready to start having it, sex can make a relationship more intimate and fun.  

The fact that I can go to my doctor without worrying about her telling my mom about my sex life is great.  I’m grateful, but should I be?  The right to privacy and confidentiality from your doctor is something all teens are entitled to, but few know about.

Without knowing a doctor cannot tell parents about our sex lives, young women like myself would find themselves with many questions about how to protect themselves, and no one to feel comfortable asking.  Many teens who don’t have a supportive figure like a health care provider or a parent to help them navigate this area, or who don’t get adequate sex ed from school, are left to figure it out (or not) on their own.

What do you think about the right to confidentiality for teens? Would you talk to your doctor more about sex ed? You can learn more about your privacy and confidentiality in the Privacy Section of the Youth Legal Guide.  

Q&A: Let’s Include LARCs in Our Sex Ed Conversations

Angela Roberts is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. She is a junior at Peters Township High School in Western Pennsylvania. Being involved in the Teen Voices community changed her life; it exposed her to the burden of inequality women feel around the world and inspired her to become the ardent feminist she is today. Writing empowers Angela, who loves adding her voice to the growing body of work speaking out against sexism, racism, and injustice. NCYL interviewed Angela about her work on the piece “Where Teens Don’t Get Sex Ed, IUD Goes Unmentioned
(Editor’s note: Angela attends school in Pennsylvania, where the laws guiding sexual education curriculums are different from those in California. The California Department of Education provides explaining the current sex education laws in the state. You can learn more here.)

1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you in to the topic of sexual education and the IUD? 

I first started researching IUDs when Katina Paron, the editor of Teen Voices, emailed me an article published in Mother Jones about the device. Reading this article was my first time ever hearing about the IUD.  As I read more about the device and its success rate, I began to wonder why I hadn’t heard of it before. It didn’t make sense that I had never learned about a method of contraception that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends as a “first-line contraceptive choice for teens.” 

Yet as I thought about it, I couldn’t remember learning about any sort of contraception in Health class. And I wasn’t alone. As I spoke with my female classmates, I realized just how little information about the IUD there was in my high school.  Out of the 14 girls I talked to, none could tell me any specifics about the device’s function and only two even recognized its name.  When I asked them about the sex ed they had received, my question was often met with laughter.  One girl even quoted the movie Mean Girls to describe the sex ed she received in high school: “Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die.” 

Others noted that, although they never felt pressured to stay abstinent, they never learned enough about sex for them to pursue any other option safely. Another girl stated that her sex ed was limited to a single class period during which her teacher read a list of silly, irrelevant misconceptions about sex while the class giggled. Hearing their stories drove me to learn more about my school’s sex ed program and how it measured up.

2) What personal questions did you have that you were trying to answer while working on this piece? Did you find those answers? What did you learn from this experience? 

I agreed to write this article before I even knew what an IUD was. I was also blissfully unaware of the inadequacy of the sex ed I had received. But now that I know just how inadequate my education really was, and how it’s affected my ability and that of my peers to pursue healthy relationships, I’m furious. Refusing to educate kids about contraceptive options and sex is not only unreasonable and ridiculous; it’s also dangerous. 

People who are against providing sex ed to students don’t realize that abstinence-only education does not prevent students from having sex. It stops them from having safe sex. Abstinence only education also creates an atmosphere of shame and indecency around sex – an atmosphere that condones slut shaming and bullying.  Students are also not taught about consent or how to diagnose an unhealthy relationship. Writing this article forced me to consider the importance of providing kids with sexual education as well as the long-term consequences for not providing it.


3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about sexual education and the rates of IUD usage? 

The more I read about IUDs, the more I recognized them as safe, effective contraceptive options for teens – and the more infuriated I became that my school provides students with zero information on them.  Because I was writing an article about this issue, I researched it way more extensively than I would have if I were just reading about it on my own.  After interviewing my female classmates and discovering just how little they knew about contraceptive options, I felt like it was my duty to expose the inadequacy of my school’s sex ed program.


4) In your work with your peers, what experiences of theirs struck you the most? What surprised you the most?

I was most shocked by my classmates’ lack of knowledge on sex and contraceptive options.  The atmosphere surrounding sex ed at my school also surprised me.  When I emailed my Health teacher about the IUD’s absence from the sex ed curriculum he responded, “The scope and content of the topics we are permitted to address in our personal wellness classes do not include these various forms of birth control methods.”  He did not say whether or not he agreed with the present sex ed curriculum – simply that himself and his colleagues were limited in the information they could provide students. The nurse at my school was also a vocal advocate for the IUD’s inclusion in the sex-ed curriculum. Yet despite this support, my school continues to provide students with very limited knowledge on sex and contraceptive options.


5) What do you think still needs to be done to improve sexual health education and inform teens of the options available to them like the IUD and other LARCs? 

There desperately needs to be a more open conversation about sex in my school. Right now, it’s stifled and this shows greatly in the attitudes and comments of students. Since I live in a fairly conservative area, it is unlikely for parents to provide their children with information on contraceptive options. If kids also don’t receive this information at school, their risk of having unprotected sex increases significantly.  If schools just set aside one day to talk about the contraceptive options that are available (including LARCs) this would, if not completely remedy the issue, substantially decease it.


6) Having worked on this piece, do you have thoughts or advice for other teens on how to empower themselves to get access to effective birth control and sex ed? 

Teens need to realize that it is within their power to obtain effective birth control. IUDs can be available for no cost, just as much as any other contraceptive device, to all teenage girls living in Pennsylvania and in other states as well. Although not receiving adequate sex ed at school can be really frustrating, there are a number of people on YouTube who are dedicated to providing teens with accurate, nonjudgmental information about sex. I highly suggest checking out Laci Green’s channel as well as Sexplanations, which is produced by Hank Green.


Want to know more about your contraceptive options? Visit our Youth Legal Guide section on Preventing Pregnancy for information and links to resources. You can also check out great contraceptive information resources such as Bedsider.org and TeenSource.

We Spend All Day In School. We Should Get Our Health Education There Too

By Sierra Freeman

My experience with health education, like most people, is very relative to where I grew up and my personal background. With the Internet, many teens today have access to any information they need at their fingertips. I think this is an important tool to take advantage of. Although the Internet is really crucial in being able to reach teens, there is still a lack of education as a whole of inclusive, culturally competent, and comprehensive health education.

There are schools that have incorporated this comprehensive care into their curriculum, but why aren’t all schools doing so?

Why aren’t we providing legitimate care and health resources to students before college? Most young adults are dependent on their parents for this information, but this doesn’t happen in every home and can be biased. In my opinion, this is why it’s crucial for schools to step in to provide accurate, unbiased information regarding overall health that allows students to connect to health resources and take control of their own health and boundaries.

I’m not saying that parents can’t provide this accurate information; there can just be barriers that stand in the way if this isn’t done in the right way. There can be fear, shame, or lack of knowledge wrapped into information being presented or maybe even not discussed at all. If we have an institution in place where young adults are required to spend the majority of their life (school), then we need to make sure we are utilizing this space and time in a way that actually benefits the health of young adults.

If we don’t have this set in place, this information can be very distorted. For example, what if a young woman’s entire idea on sexuality comes from the media, where women are constantly over-sexualized? We need to put more of a priority on health education, regardless of where we live and what our community’s and/or family’s personal beliefs are.


In January 2016, California’s California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) went into effect.  This new set of laws will help ensure that California students receive instruction in school that includes comprehensive and accurate prevention information for sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy, as well as information about healthy relationships and local health resources.    The California Department of Education has a website about California’s comprehensive health education laws. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/se/

Learn more about your health rights in school by visiting our guide here.

Making the Extra Effort To Take Care Of Your Baby

Making the Extra Effort To Take Care Of Your Baby

It may be difficult for parents to remain involved in their child’s life, but putting in the extra effort to do so will make a huge difference. One young person recently told us their feelings on the importance of parents working together to to raise their child:

“In my opinion I think that all parents have to care about their child physically and financially. Even if some parents are not together, their child still needs to feel loved by both of them. And yes, they both have to help financially, even if one of them doesn’t want to be involved. And it’s very important that the parent who’s not living with their child should have times to see their child.”

Finding Helping Hands

In some cases, new parents can also turn to other people in their lives to help with caring for a baby. If you are under 18 and have a child of your own, you are still technically your parents’ responsibility. That means they have to support you, even if doing so is helping you find housing because they don’t want you to live at home anymore. If you are in foster care, refer to our Teen Parent in Foster Care and Baby in Foster Care resource pages.

One teen recently told us that Family won’t always be supportive, but it does feel nice when they are.” Another told us “my family was supportive since they day they knew I was pregnant. Even though they weren’t too happy about the news they were there for me throughout everything. I am very thankful to have a supportive family that always helps me.”

Support can come from many places. There are a ton of resources out there for new parents who need help.

If both parents aren’t together and the family isn’t being supportive, there are still programs that can help you raise your child. And if you’re dating someone new, your significant other could be a huge help in raising your child. Teachers, mentors, and other adults from community centers or programs you may be involved in can also help, even if it’s just to offer you advice.

Here are some resources to help you get more information about raising your child, how you can get help, and what rights and responsibilities you and your partner have as teen parents.

Free Programs that Give You Help

Teen Parent Rights and Responsibilities

Getting Health Care for your Baby

Finding Childcare

What are some things you’ve found helpful when raising your child? Where did you find support? Tell us in the comments below!

“I need to go!” Using the Bathroom in School while Pregnant

When I was three months pregnant, I told my teacher I needed to go to the restroom, but he refused to let me go.

So I said, “I need to. I’m pregnant and I’m going to go.”

Instead of understanding and letting me leave, he said that I needed a nurse’s note. Then he laughed and said, “You’re pregnant?!”

“Yeah,” I said, and walked out of the room.

After that incident, I had  problems. I had pain and spotting. I had a bladder infection.  I went to the school nurse.  I told her about my pains. I told her, “I’m pregnant and my teacher doesn’t let me use the restroom.”  The nurse called my parents to come and pick me up. They took me to the emergency room. Finally, I got some papers to take to school from my OBGYN.

I showed the papers to the nurse, who gave me a confidential note letting me use the restroom when I needed it. When I went back to the teacher and showed him the note, he still said I couldn’t go, saying it had to be in my school file. When I got up to use the restroom during class, the teacher called the nurse, who told him I had a note.

But after all that, the teacher would also say to me “Oh, there you go again with your note,” every time I had to leave the classroom.

What’s my advice to other pregnant students? From the moment you find out that you’re pregnant, ask your OBGYN for papers to take to school, see the school nurse, and get a confidential medical note saying you can leave. That way, you can keep your information and your situation confidential, and you won’t have to risk telling teachers or other students who might be rude or not take you seriously.

“Nezlyn,” 17 years old

Prenatal Appointments and School

The biggest challenge since I got pregnant has been getting to my prenatal care.

I’m in school right now.  The school tells me that I can’t check myself out from school for my prenatal appointments.  They tell me that I need my mom  to sign me out or call in.  But I don’t live with my mom.  When I got pregnant, my mom told me,“You’re pregnant and that’s on you. Don’t get me involved.” I moved in with my boyfriend and his aunt two months ago. My mom and I don’t talk anymore and there is no one to check me out from school.

Being able to check myself out for appointments and back in to school would let me go to an appointment in the early morning and then have enough time to come back to school and only miss one period of class.  Instead, I have to reschedule my appointments at the last minute if I can’t get leave school, or I have to make an appointment in the afternoon and leave school early. If I have an afternoon appointment and miss the bus, I get there too late and have to reschedule. And some of my appointments, like blood tests, have to happen first thing in the morning,

It would be better if the school let me leave and just said bring a note or a card from your doctor to show where you were.  I just learned that the law says the school is supposed to let me check myself out, but I didn’t know that before.   Next time I am going to try that and tell the school its the law.