PORTLAND, Ore. - Native parents, grandparents and caregivers have the power to influence pre-teens and young teens to delay sexual activity by talking to them early and often about their hopes, dreams and expectations for the future. That was the message communicated at a Sept. 27 kickoff event in Portland to introduce the Parents Speak Up national campaign to Indian country.
''Don't just tell youth what not to do,'' said hip hop artist and abstinence advocate Marcus Guinn, known professionally as Emcee One. ''Share your vision for their future and show them how delaying sexual activity can help them meet their goals.''
The Parents Speak Up national campaign of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services includes television, radio, outdoor and print advertising, public service announcements, a Web site and partnerships with community organizations. The campaign message urges parents of 10- to 13-year-olds to talk to their children about delaying sexual activity and provides tools and information to help build confidence around this sensitive topic.
The national campaign includes special outreach to American Indian and Alaska Native parents. The vast health disparities that have been shaped by historical, socioeconomic and cultural factors within Native communities demand an increased presence, said Guinn. For example, American Indian and Alaska Native teens have much higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases than other groups, and 46 percent of Native mothers have their first baby before the age of 20.
Materials and activities for American Indian parents, created by the campaign's Native American Outreach Center, are available at www.4parents.gov/shareyourvision. They make a connection to Native cultures and values.
''It's not foreign for Native peoples to share our vision for the future with the coming generation,'' said Guinn, who is part Osage, Pottawatomie and Delaware as well as Puerto Rican. ''We have a long history of oral tradition and passing stories down,'' as well as tribal coming of age ceremonies.
''Vision is crucial,'' said Guinn. ''If you're not sharing your vision, then someone or something else will fill in the blank.''
Actor, director and educator Kimberly Norris Guerrero, who also spoke at the event, said that sexually active teens can be traumatized when relationships end.
''It's not just a physical thing, it's also emotional and spiritual,'' that can lead to depression and drug and alcohol abuse. Norris Guerrero, an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, has appeared in movies and television shows, including ''Seinfeld,'' and frequently leads teen seminars about abstinence.
She said early parent-child communication about delaying sexual activity is ''practical, relevant and doable. Younger kids are usually open to what their parents have to say. They still want to talk to you and you still have somewhat of a 'cool factor.' As kids get older, they tend to become more guarded,'' she said.
Norris Guerrero advised parents to explore the available resources at www.4parents.gov/shareyourvision, look for opportunities to broach the subject and use humor with children. ''Don't talk at them,'' she said. ''Listen to where they are coming from.''
The campaign is working with tribes and organizations to spread the word to parents. Joyce McFarland, director of the Nez Perce Students for Success Program in Idaho, told attendees that early sexual activity is as serious an issue as alcohol and drug use among teens, ''but we don't put it on the same level and we don't talk to our kids about it. Let's not be silent. Let's be comfortable about this because it can make a difference in a teenager's decision.''
Among the other American Indian and Alaska Native organizations that are partnering with Parents Speak Up are the American Indian Science and Engineering Society; Ateyapi Abstinence Program Rural America Initiative; the Boys and Girls Clubs in Indian Country; IWASIL; Boys and Girls Club Seattle, Wash.; National Council of Urban Indian Health; National Indian Education Association; National Native American Families Together; Native Youth Magazine; Running Strong for American Indian Youth; and Southern California Indian Center Inc.