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.

Ask NCYL: If I’m in Foster Care can I still live with my child?

You’ve sent us your questions about sex, pregnancy, and parenting rights. Each month, we’ll pick one to answer here on the blog. Check out our latest Q&A below!

First of all it’s important to know that even if you’re in foster care, that doesn’t mean your child will enter foster care as well. Children are put into foster care if their parent or guardian can no longer take care of them. If you’re able and willing to take care of your child, they can live with you. No one can take your child away from you just because you’re under 18 or live in foster care. But you must care for your child just like any other parent.

If you’re staying with a foster family or group home, they may receive extra money if your child stays there with you. But depending on your foster care situation, you may need to move to a new placement if you’re pregnant and want to have the child. If you become pregnant and decide to have the baby, make sure to speak with your social worker, lawyer, and foster parents. You can all come together to decide whether the foster home you’re in will be the right place for you, or if you need to find a new place to stay.

If you are not taking good care of your child, Child Protective Services might ask you to give up custody. If you choose to give up custody, it may be very difficult to get your child back, even after you turn 18 or leave foster care. Don’t give up your child unless you have thought about it very carefully, talked to a lawyer, and talked to a trusted adult.

Learn more about your health rights while in Foster Care by visiting the Foster Care Section in our Youth Legal Guide. 


My Sex Ed Experience in School

by Isabel M.

Isabel 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.

My sexual health education has been very interesting but limited. I had sex ed classes in 6th grade and 8th grade at my school. I also got to learn more about sex at Females Against Violence with activities like relationship wheels and charts. My school doesn’t have a sex-ed program, but they offer one class for five days once every other year.

I learned about sex and relationships in my recent sex ed classes at school. I also learned more about relationships in a class I took on social emotional learning. I learned about healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to deal with them if I ever encounter them.

A knowledgeable and sensitive teacher is really important for good sex ed. Current information, education on birth control methods and access, and enough time for questions at the end were really valuable for me. I would like if one of the topics in sex-ed was Health consequences of HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy.

I would also like to learn about body image because many people aren’t comfortable with their body image so that keeps them from having a healthy sexual relationship. The health consequences of STDs and pregnancy would help me be better educated about choices I make in the future.

Have questions about STDs, HIV, and pregnancy? Make sure to take a look at our Youth Legal Guide to answer your questions.

Supporting A Partner with Mental Illness

This piece was written by Jo, a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council. Jo is 19 and a college student.  She is passionate about queer activism and mental health advocacy among youth.  In her spare time she likes to play guitar and read social justice essays.

Romantic partners of people with mental illness may not be sure how to deal with addressing mental health. They will want to be supportive of their partner, but aren’t sure how to do so.  Thankfully, there are some things you can try if you feel like your partner might be experiencing mental illness or mental health issues. 

You can respect your partner’s boundaries. Some people who struggle with mental health don’t want their romantic partners to be involved in that part of their life at all, preferring to take care of it by themselves, with a professional, or with other friends and family.  

You can also respect your partner’s choice of care. Sometimes people tend to think that if someone has a mental illness, they have to be seeing a therapist and/or be on medication to be healthy.  But people may prefer to take care of their mental health on their own, within a community of friends, or within their family.  Don’t try to push your partner into seeing a therapist or taking medication. While you can make suggestions or alert them to new and valuable resources, the choice to seek care, and the kind of care that will be, is ultimately their own. 

Out of respect for your partner, keep information about your partner’s mental health on a need-to-know basis. There may be particular people that your partner would prefer did not know about their struggles with their mental health.  Even if you are unsure of the exact reasoning for this, likely your partner has a reason that you should respect.

It might be a good idea to have a crisis plan in place. If your partner tells you that they have a part of their mental illness that could send them into a possible crisis (such as panic attacks, self-harm, suicidal ideation, psychotic episodes, etc.), make sure that you know what to do if such a situation arises.  You do not have to be their only form of support, or do anything you are uncomfortable doing for them. Find a plan that both of you are comfortable with, so if something happens, you know what to do.

Take the time to learn about what your partner is dealing with.  There is a lot of stigma and false information about mental illness out there.  Look at some reputable information about mental illness, and make sure that you aren’t believing myths about your partner’s mental illness, or using language that perpetuates stigma.

The most important part of any relationship is to communicate.  So if something is making you uncomfortable, say something, and make sure that your partner feels safe enough in your relationship to do the same.  Your partner should be able to feel that you can be supportive, and you should be able to give support you are comfortable giving and making sure that your partner isn’t solely dependent on you. Both of you should feel safe and comfortable within your relationship.

Need more information about young people’s rights to mental health and mental care? Check out the Mental Health section of our Youth Legal Guide. 


Ask NCYL: Am I Allowed to Breastfeed my Child in School?

You’ve sent us your questions about sex, pregnancy, and parenting rights. Each month, we’ll pick one to answer here on the blog. Check out our latest Q&A below!

Breastfeeding may not be the most popular topic to bring up at school, but we often get questions from teens wondering how they can manage being a mom and being a student at the same time.

Your school cannot harass you just because you’re pregnant or parenting.  It also has to help make it a bit easier for you to go to school and be a parent.  One example is that if you want to pump or breastfeed, you have the right to do so in school and most schools have to give you “reasonable accommodations” to make that easier.

What does “reasonable accommodation” mean?   It means that the school has to give you a private space (not a bathroom) where you can feed your baby or pump milk.  It has to let you bring a pump to school and give you a place to store milk safely after it’s been pumped, and it has to give you reasonable time throughout the day to breastfeed or pump and not punish you academically for taking that time.  That’s not all.  Check out Education Code 222 for more.

When navigating both school and new parenthood, it’s important to know your rights so you can stand up for them and protect them if people around you don’t respect them. If a school forces you to pump in a bathroom or doesn’t give you these “reasonable accommodations,” you have a right to file a complaint.

To learn more about your other rights, feel free to browse throughout the site for more information!

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.  

What Can You Do When Your Friend Struggles With Mental Health?

This piece was written by Kyle C., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council

Before I started high school, I did not know anyone with a mental illness. In fact, I didn’t really understand what depression and anxiety were; my seventh grade health class did not cover mental health. A lot of changes took place in high school. The most prominent change I noticed among my peers was how many of them developed mental health problems. Now, going into my senior year of high school, several of my best friends and many other classmates have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

When my best friend first told me he was depressed, I wasn’t sure how to react. I tried not to act stunned, though it was hard. I told him I was there for him if he needed anything. From then on, I made an extra effort to try to make him happy. I would text him every day with funny animal pictures or embarrassing stories from my school day.

Despite my efforts and those of his therapist and doctor, he ended up in the hospital. He called me from the ER to talk to me about his suicide attempt and to tell me he was safe. Honestly, I don’t remember what I said to him because I was so shocked. I went to visit him in the hospital, bringing him friendship bracelets, books, and pictures of us when we were younger.

This was my first introduction to how scary mental illness could be. Later, when more of my peers turned to me for support with their depression, I was better prepared. I didn’t try to understand what they were going through, because I couldn’t. I didn’t push them to talk about their illness, but instead listened to them when they wanted to discuss it. I didn’t blame myself for the times when their depression got worse because I’d learned it was never anyone’s fault.

I don’t have a magical cure for my friends’ health issues. The best piece of advice I can give to other teens who have peers with similar issues is to act normal around your friends.  Being yourself is the best thing you can do to help your friends who are struggling.  Try to keep a positive outlook on life yourself to give your friends an optimistic atmosphere to help them recover. It’s crucial to have adults in your life that you trust to talk about the emotions you feel while your friends are struggling. Whether it be a teacher or parent, you must have someone you can confide in to express worry if you feel your friend is in danger.

Those scary, dark tweets posted by your friends are a cry for help: make sure you tell an adult and check on your friend.

If you have concerns about mental health or taking care of yourself, especially if you’re pregnant or parenting, you can learn more about resources available to you in our Mental Health section. If you ever feel scared that you or your friend might do something that could really harm them, get a trusted adult or call 911. 

ASK NCYL: Can I get kicked out of school for being pregnant or being a parent?

You’ve sent us your questions about sex, pregnancy, and parenting rights. Each month, we’ll pick one to answer here on the blog. Check out our answers below!


No! You have the right to stay in school if you become pregnant or a teen parent.  Your school cannot treat you unfairly or harass you just because you’re pregnant or have a child; the school also can’t kick you out or force you to go to a different school.

In California, you have to stay in school until you are 18, you graduate, or you get a certificate of proficiency. Once you become pregnant or a parent, you can stay in your current school, but you also can choose to leave your current school and find a new one that might better meet the new needs you face as a pregnant or parenting teen. You can go to a continuation program, a GED program, adult education classes, community college, or a special school for pregnant and parenting teens. The choice is yours.

If you do decide to look into a different school, try to find out as much about that school as possible. Ask whether the school has flexible schedules, what degrees they offer, and what kinds of programs they may have for pregnant and parenting teens. Talk to trusted adults, your school counselor, teachers, and recent graduates of programs you’re interested in to get a better sense of what you can expect.

There are programs that will help you regardless of what school you’re in. You can find out more about these programs here.

As a teen parent, you have unique rights when it comes to staying in school and completing your education. Make sure to visit the School and Education section of our Youth Legal Guide for a complete guide to your rights in school as a teen parent.

Q&A: Teens Want More LGBTQ+ Inclusive Sex Ed

Natalia Young is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. NCYL interviewed Natalia about her work on the piece “Teens Say More LGBTQ+ Sex Ed Would be Really Helpful“. 

1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you into the topic of sex ed and the LGBTQ+ community?

What really got me thinking about this piece was a meeting that I had with my editor. We were talking about potential pieces for me to write, and ended up agreeing on a story about the amount of sexual freedom that LGBTQ+ teens have in contrast with their straight peers. But after conducting interviews with some girls, both my editor and I noticed a pattern in their answers; while they did appreciate the freedom they had, the girls wished for guidance and direction in their sexual encounters, which was something they didn’t feel they were getting in their schools (from Texas to Pennsylvania). After noticing this, we decided to to shift the focus to what seemed to be the real problem taking shape for teens in this community who felt like they didn’t have a safe place to get the information that straight kids often take for granted.


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?

Going into this piece, my questions were mainly about the experiences that my sources had with sexual freedom. However, this topic took a different route when I learned  how little guidance they had as “sexual minorities”. I think my biggest question was really pretty broad- I just wanted to know what kind of sex ed they felt would benefit and guide them the most. After all, you can’t take action towards fixing a problem if you don’t know what the end goal is, right?


3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about teen sexual health, sexual education, and the LGBTQ+ community?

It definitely was never apparent to me that LGBTQ+ teens had such pressing desires for sex ed as opposed to straight teens, or how seriously those desires should be taken. It just never crossed my mind- it seems like kids never take high school health classes seriously (even the way these classes are portrayed in the media– think about that scene in Mean Girls where the gym teacher puts a condom on that banana…). But after working on this piece, I started to think about how problematic it is that such an important class (health/sex ed) has a stereotype for being the class that teens make fun of. This piece definitely gave me clarity regarding sexual education, and made me realize that it’s time public schools change their health curricula by implementing programs that will inform teens in areas where they actually want information.


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

What struck me the most is how much they were affected by something that I and my straight peers really take for granted. I can remember all the “milestone” moments in our sex ed careers (many of which involved visual presentations, from Wonder of Wonders to a live birthing video).

We dreaded these things, we made desperate jokes about eating lollipops to try and make ourselves feel less awkward, we shrunk in our seats when asked if we had any questions (or, in the case of some boys in the sixth grade, shot our hands up high, just waiting to make an immature joke).

Meanwhile, there are plenty of students who never have and never will receive this kind of full disclosure about how they can safely be sexual. They don’t have the opportunity to ask questions. They don’t even have the opportunity to dread awkward yet informative sex presentations. Realizing this really took me aback, and made me think about how long we’ve all been hearing the same things. We could practically recite the information they’ve been feeding us for the past 5 years on straight sex, but anything that deviates from this specific education is pretty much uncharted territory.


5) What do you think still needs to be done to reduce the stigma around LGBTQ+ sex education? What strategies can improve sex education for teens both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community? Have you seen strategies that work? That don’t work? Please describe.

I think the key issue with “LGBTQ+ sex ed” is the fact that we feel the need to separate this concept from conventional sex ed. In every interview I conducted, with both teens and experts, “inclusive” was the word for the type of sex ed they’re striving for. Basically, LGBTQ+  matters should be incorporated into the “normal” curriculums that schools currently follow. This way, (1) it isn’t awkward for teens who identify as LGBTQ+ to be singled out (like, “okay, anyone who isn’t straight, today’s lesson is just for you!”) and (2) all students can be exposed to information that will ensure their health and safety, no matter what the circumstance.

Many high schoolers do not have a concrete sexuality- while they may feel that they’re straight, queer, etc, they can only have so much experience by the time they’re a late teenager (for example, I feel that I’m definitely straight, yet I’ve never been on a date or had a significant other). A teen may discover, through an experience later on down the road, that they identify with a sexuality they didn’t even understand in high school. By having inclusive sex ed, it’s possible to provide students with the knowledge to make healthy choices early on in their experimental years, ensuring that exploration of sexual identity don’t have to be risky.  


6) Having worked on this piece, what are your thoughts or advice for other teens on how to access sexual health education if they can’t get it in school? Did you find any useful resources you want to share? What would you tell a friend or a loved one to do if they were struggling with questions around LGBTQ+ sex ed?

I think different things work for different people. One source said she liked watching Laci Green’s YouTube videos; another said IMPACT, a simple Google search (ah! see how this can be problematic?), and talking to her brother, who was bi, helped her through some challenges and questions she faced.

If someone I knew was having any troubles around their sexuality, I would definitely offer myself up to talk. I think that’s one of the most important things a person can do in any situation. Even if you might not have the specific answers that the person is looking for, just giving support and advice has some value. Through the research that I did conduct, I was exposed to more websites based around sexual health (both LGBTQ+ specific and otherwise) than I could count. I also found out that many communities have youth health centers or youth initiatives (visit our Resources Map to find centers and programs in California).


7) What did you hope to accomplish with this piece? What do you want to see change in the future of LGBTQ+ sex ed?

I hope that this piece opened up readers’ eyes and minds to the fact that the lack of LGBTQ+ sex ed is a very real, very serious issue. I think because of prejudice that still exists around any sexuality that isn’t straight, it can be daunting to try and sort out a curriculum to cater to the needs of all teens. This is especially true when you consider the amount of gender and sexual orientation identities such as trans, pan, asexual, androgynous etc., which can seem overwhelming to older generations.

But that’s no excuse not to strive for progress! I think that this article makes it pretty clear that LGBTQ+ teens have a good idea of what they want in terms of their sexual education. If adults who can make a change catch onto this, and combine the actual needs of students with the understanding of experts, I think an inclusive curriculum is totally attainable. We need to completely push the concept of “LGBTQ+” sex ed out of our minds, and instead focus on sex ed that will do what its name suggests: teach about sex, for everyone.

You can learn more about maintaining a health and happy relationship by visiting our Sex and Relationships section in the Youth Legal Guide. 

When Getting Birth Control Becomes A Challenge

Kayla is a Cell and Molecular Biology major at San Francisco State University. She is an intern/Brand Ambassador for Nurx, an intern for ASI Women’s Center, and a Sexual Health intern for the HPW Health Promotion and Wellness Center Team at SFSU. Her hobbies include writing spoken word poetry and taking care of her two pet chinchillas.

I know from personal experience that obtaining birth control can be daunting and aggravating.

Nearing the end of my senior year of high school, I wanted to get birth control before I entered college. Things were getting more serious with my boyfriend and I also wanted to be protected before entering the college scene. But I had one major roadblock: strict parents.

I began to devise a plan for when I could drive to Planned Parenthood to get birth control without my parents knowing. I used the classic excuse, “I’m hanging out with Danielle today”, which was pretty much the truth since she did come with me for support. I remember feeling so uncomfortable and awkward sitting in the seats in the waiting room surrounded by other people. Why did I feel like everyone was staring at me and judging me? Or was that just paranoia? Why was this so nerve wrecking?

I remember not knowing how to answer some of the questions the woman asked me about my insurance, so I just told her I did not have any. She put me under Family Pact, which allowed the birth control to be free. I left Planned Parenthood with a year’s supply of birth control pills, feeling like I had won the jackpot. Danielle and I giggled in awe at the goodie bag filled health products, including a variety of brightly colored condoms. I felt sneaky and accomplished because I’d succeeded in independently getting birth control without my parent’s knowledge.

A week into taking my pills daily, my parents found out. I wasn’t as sly as I thought I was. My dad found my pills in my purse and became outraged, taking the pills away. My parents shamed me and told me I was not ready. But I knew that was my decision to make.

I went back to Planned Parenthood to get more birth control. But I was unable to get more for free since they already gave me a year’s supply. This time I would have to pay. I paid $30 for only three months, only to go home and have my father steal my birth control for a second time.

I felt helpless and wondered what options were available for girls in situations like me. I faced many difficulties just to obtain my birth control. I felt powerless to protect my body. I felt like no one had any resources to assist me.

It wasn’t until I finally got away from my house that I was able to take control of my reproductive health. As a college student, I discovered there were services out there that would deliver my pills directly to me at school. One of these, the one I found, was Nurx. Using Nurx, I was able to get my birth control delivered to me at college, a safe place where I could receive them and not worry about my parents confiscating them. While I still had to hide the pills from my parents on visits home, I knew that I could, and would, always have a delivery waiting for me at school when I needed it.

While birth control delivery services are great, they won’t do you much good if you live in a super strict household or if your parents check the mail. But they might be a good option for you if you leave home, or if you’re able to get the delivery somewhere that isn’t your house, like a school or work mailbox.

For girls in the same situation as me, it can be a struggle to protect yourself and ensure you get the birth control you need. If you struggle with overly strict parents who think you’re not ready, try to get them on your page by asking your parents to speak with you calmly. Explain that you’re the one making the decision, that it’s your body, and your right to access birth control when you need it. Explain that taking away birth control won’t prevent you from the activities you’re engaging in, and that you’re making a smart, responsible choice by even seeking out birth control in the first place.

If your parents still refuse to let you get the pill on your own, or continue to confiscate your pills when you get them, you can seek out help from another trusted adult, like a school counselor or nurse. You can also look into other birth control options, such as the IUD, patch, injection, or ring, which last longer and don’t require you to take a pill every day. Ultimately it’s your body and your right to choose.

Getting my birth control delivered by Nurx at school was the best solution for me. Once I moved away and figured out an easy way to get birth control delivered to me at school, I finally was able to have the responsibility of controlling my own sexual health. I felt free. I was in control.

You can learn about ways you can prevent pregnancy, and resource you can use to access birth control in California, by visiting our Birth Control section.

On Love, Relationships, Sex, and Protection

This piece was written by Juli K. a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council.  Juli attends Eastern Michigan University and is pursuing a career in social work. Since she was 17, she’s worked for adolescent sexual health under organizations such as Michigan Youth (MY) Voice and Teen Adolescent Championship Teen Advisory Council (TAC TAC). She plans to continue working with adolescent sexual health as part of her social work career. 

Do you ever think about your first love? I often think about mine from high school. Despite how things ended between us, if I had not gone through some of those experiences then I don’t think I would be the person I am today.

When I was 14, being in love was never something I would have imagined happening to me. I would watch The Notebook and The Titanic, silently protesting because I just knew that someone loving me as much as Noah loved Allie or Jack loved Rose wasn’t possible. But if you have seen these classic romance movies, you would know that despite all of the love being given and received, relationships have their consequences. I learned this firsthand with my first loving relationship.

My boyfriend at the time was a few years older than me and had already engaged in sexual activity with previous partners. Although I was always very conscious about taking care of myself, I let my guard down when it came to him. We eventually started engaging in sexual activity ourselves.

When I was 15, we had a condom break. My periods were never regular, so when my period was a few days late I didn’t really worry about it. But after that incident all I could think about was how I wanted my period to come to ease my mind. After a few weeks had passed and I still did not have a period, I sat down and questioned the possibility that I could actually be pregnant. My mom was a teen mom, and I saw how that affected me and my sisters’ lives growing up.

All of a sudden I had to think about things I never dreamed of imagining myself thinking of at 15. How would I tell my mom if I was pregnant? Would I be able to terminate the pregnancy? What if my mom and boyfriend pressured me to keep the child? What would people at school think? All the over-thinking made me nauseous.

A friend of mine picked me up one afternoon and took me to Walmart where I did my pregnancy test in the bathroom. I would not have dared to take it at home; what if my mom found it in my garbage?! So there I was, in a Walmart bathroom, peeing on a stick. I patiently waited while the lines showed up, very clearly showing that I wasn’t pregnant! I was so happy I nearly cried. It was then and there that I decided getting on birth control was something I had to do to protect myself even more if incidents like this did happen again.

Deciding to engage in sexual activity with someone is quite a big decision. It’s important to protect yourself and your partner because unfortunately, being caught in the heat of the moment can actually take a toll on your future. I’m sharing my experience not to scare people from having sex, but to raise awareness about how important it is to have protection and communication between you and your partner. Even if things feel good and right, they can still have long-term consequences that could affect your future.

For more information about your questions around sex and relationships, your rights to birth control and emergency contraception, and information about pregnancy, visit our Youth Legal Guide.

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.

Q&A: Why Sexual Harassment in School is a Bigger Deal Than You Think

Tatyana Bellamy-Walker is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. She is a student journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Daily News, New York Amsterdam News and Teen Kids News.NCYL interviewed Tatyana about her work interviewing teens for the piece “Teens Say School Sex Harassment Goes Unpunished”

1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you into the topic of sexual harassment in school?

I pitched this article to Teen Voices after realizing that school sexual harassment often goes unnoticed by faculty and staff. I worked on the article when I was a high school senior, so it made sense to dive deeper into an issue that I witnessed every day.

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?

This piece was hard for me because I had to find a way to encourage students to open up to me about their experiences. I was constantly reworking questions to allow students to identify with the issue of sexual harassment.

If you ask a student, “Have you ever been sexually harassed?” they will say, “No.” However, if you empower the interviewee and do not refer to them as a victim you get a much better response. For example, I would ask girls, “Has someone ever made comments about your body that made you feel uncomfortable?” For the most part, they say yes. Then I asked them, “What do they say,” and that’s when they begin to open up about their experience. I learned it’s important to have a conversation with the interviewee; it gives them time to reflect on their experiences.

3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about sexual harassment in school?

When we think of sexual harassment in school we often think that teachers are responding to these issues and have it all under control. But I found out that there are not many repercussions for students who harass others. Also, there is not much education to encourage the prevention of sexual harassment. Female students bear the brunt of this issue. Some girls that I spoke with said they have low self-esteem and are pretty fearful because they don’t know when harassment might turn into sexual violence.

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

I interviewed a girl who was being stalked by one of her male peers. The guy wrote her letters and consistently pursued her. She was scared and did not know what he was capable of doing. When I spoke to the student about the guy, she started to slouch in her chair, her voice became softer and she relived the moment. I was surprised that the majority of the girls I spoke to had similar experiences. They all seemed really uncomfortable.

5) What do you think still needs to be done to reduce sexual harassment in school for teens? Have you seen strategies that work? That don’t work?

I think schools can do a better job educating students about sexual harassment and how it manifests itself. Students may not know the difference between friendly teasing, bullying, flirting and harassment. Administrators can to do more to make students feel respected. Teachers can stand up for students who are being harassed.

Blaming girls for wearing short skirts or having a curvy body does not help them with sexual harassment. Instead, this leads them to have a lower self-worth. Ultimately, I found that shaming girls about sexual harassment further stigmatizes the issue. It often pushes them into silence because they feel ashamed about the problem.

6) Having worked on this piece, do you have thoughts or advice for other teens on how to empower or protect themselves against sexual harassment?

I think it is important for teens to respect each other and realize that the words they use can humiliate another person. If you are a teen who has experienced sexual harassment it is best to tell an adult, your parents or an administrator. Also, keep track of where the harassment occurs and what the students are saying. This can better help teachers track and punish students who make inappropriate comments. Sexual harassment is scary and teens need to be more proactive in speaking up about the issue.

You can learn more about how to stay safe in your relationships by visiting the Staying Safe section of our Youth Legal Guide. If you’re ever severely worried about your safety, make sure to tell an adult as soon as possible or call 911.

Finding Birth Control Through Planned Parenthood

Tyler S is a senior at SF State, graduating in May with a B.S in Health Education. She works as a lifeguard and swim instructor for the city of San Francisco. In her free time, she likes to go hiking, walk her dog, and go rock climbing.

When I was about 15 ½ I decided I was ready to have sex with my boyfriend at the time. We used condoms for a while and then decided it was time for me to be on birth control. I did not want to ask my parents because I was not sure how they would have reacted and I did not want to get in trouble with them.

So instead an older friend and my boyfriend recommended I go to Planned Parenthood. They told me they would give me birth control for free and it be confidential so my parents couldn’t find out. So we went and waited and I was able to go on birth control.

The whole experience was a bit nerve racking but my friend and boyfriend came with me so that definitely calmed my nerves. Also the people at the Planned Parenthood were so understanding. My parents had not found out that I was having sex or on birth control for a long time; I think I was about 17 when they found out. Turns out my mom was really chill about it and kind of bummed that I did not tell her. Though she was happy that I was protected and taking birth control.

Click here for more resources and information about accessing and using birth control.