'Great Speaker' Lecturer Carrera Discusses Teen Pregnancy Prevention
If you want to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy, you have to do more than feed teens facts, says Michael A. Carrera, the Thomas Hunter Professor Emeritus of Health Science at Hunter College of the City University of New York.
The answer is to give teens the support and the tools they need to build a better life, says Carrera, who has an Ed.D. in health education from TC. He concedes that it took him some 25 years to realize that.
Carrera was the first of two Great Speakers invited to TC in April.
For years, he gave the same sex-ed lectures as other "experts" only to wonder why--like other sex-ed experts--he didn't get the outcome he wanted.
"I failed," he told the standing-room-only crowd in the Student Lounge.
One day, he finally figured out why. It was because while he was lecturing on pregnancy prevention, the teens "were sitting there thinking about whether the electricity would be on when they got home," he says.
"Problems like teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases don't exist because there's information out there that teens didn't hear about," he says.
"Those problems are symptoms. They are the yield of poverty, lack of health care and more."
Carrera, who is an adjunct professor of Community Medicine at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, came to a simple conclusion: "We do not prevent teen pregnancy. They do."
The way to help them want to prevent pregnancies is to create an environment where positive things happen for them, he said.
His solution was to create centers where teens can find health care, sports, tutoring and job training all under one roof.
For example, he has a Job Club, where they learn about responsibility.
The teens go through a training program that includes learning how to show up on time and how to open and manage a bank account. Then, they are placed in paid jobs.
A very important component of the program is academic testing. An educational program is designed for each student.
"The kids who delay becoming sexually active the longest or who use contraception are the best students," Carrera says. "That's the education component of contraception."
They also teach the teenagers how to be health consumers. They find doctors for the teens and try to match teens and physicians by race. As a result, Carrera says the teens are not using the emergency room for primary care.
Carrera set up his first program in 1985. Today there are 43 centers in cities across the country.
The most important tool counselors at the centers employ is caring, he says.
"Caring means we won't keep a list of wrongs. Caring means that we will never withhold affection as a means of disapproval," Carrera says.
Caring means that you understand that teens "front." They push us away when they really want our help, he explains.
Published Friday, Jun. 7, 2002