Not keeping mum about teen sex

The case of a 12-year-old who got pregnant when she was in Primary 6 is a rare one. But so serious are the implications that even if just one baby is born a day to a teen mother here, it is "still one too many", as a counsellor observed. That bears repeating as the large decline in teen pregnancies in the past decade might lull parents into thinking pubescents are taking more care to avoid sex. They are, in fact, more careful about avoiding pregnancies by picking up contraceptive tips online, with some even sharing birth control pills. In an over-sexualized world, it would indeed be naive to think that teens are coping well with explicit content, especially online. At the back of their minds, many parents probably acknowledge that children might know a lot more about sex than adults care to admit. But some might not accept that teens are experimenting with sex earlier.

It's better to confront that possibility because of children's Internet precociousness (leading to early access to sexual information) and the worldwide trend of girls starting puberty at a younger age. While the latter is not fully understood, Boston University believes "many of the cases are attributed to excess weight gain or (paradoxically) improved nutrition", and exposure to phthalates found in many plastic products and other chemicals that affect hormone production.

The early onset of puberty makes pregnant teens more susceptible to emotional issues, anaemia and high blood pressure. Babies might be born prematurely and have weaker intellectual development and medical problems. Such issues and disrupted studies can dramatically alter young lives. Recognising this, parents should talk about the birds and bees sooner rather than later.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Not keeping mum about teen sex'. Subscribe