Sun, 02 Oct 1994

JAKARTA (JP): You think your 14-year-old child is studying, but you find him reading a pornographic magazine instead.

What do you do? Grab the book, throw it away, and preach? Or lock him in his room for the rest of the day?

Right? Wrong!

The best thing to do, according to psychiatrists, is to join your child. Read the book together and then discuss it.

"You shouldn't reprimand them. You have to read it and explain that not everything the book says is true," said psychiatrist Ratna Sugeng.

By discussing sex with their children, parents may be spared painful problems later on, such as unwanted pregnancy.

Children are sexually active from as young as 10 years-old. Keeping them busy is the best way to channel their sexuality. Playing sports, dancing, joining marching bands or being a cheerleader are among the activities which can help teenagers deal with their sexual drive, said Ratna.

"It is really important for parents to understand their children, communicate with and educate them -- not an education on how to have sex with contraception, but on the consequences and the responsibility attached to sex," Ratna pointed out.

The sad thing is, however, that parents are often reluctant to talk about sex with their children because many people consider it against "Eastern values" or taboo.

Like Ratna, psychologist Ieda Poernomo Sigit Sidi urged parents to be more open with their children about sexual matters. She said she understood that older parents were raised in circumstances which did not permit them to discuss sex.

"Things, however, have changed. There is a lot of public exposure to sex, which stimulates teenagers' fantasies and arouses their curiosity," said Ieda.

That is a common factor in teenage pregnancy.

Some know the consequences, but they have sex because they cannot control themselves. There are others who become pregnant even though they use contraceptives because they do not use them correctly. In some cases, girls get pregnant "on purpose" to force their boyfriends to marry them. And a few girls are simply reckless, possibly because they know that it is easy to have an abortion.

Is abortion the best solution to teenage pregnancy?

Both Ratna and Ieda frowned when the idea of abortion was raised.

"Abortion is very risky. Once you have an abortion, you might not be able to have children," said Ratna, a counselor on a talk radio program on sex airing on Radio Dharmawangsa.

She added that abortion might also physically harm the girl if it is performed at a place that does not have the proper facilities.

Ieda believes that abortion is acceptable only if the birth will jeopardize the life of the mother, or if the baby will have a serious defect when born.

Even though Ratna and Ieda do not agree with abortion, they pointed out that girls who have abortions must not be condemned. Without any support from family or friends, their guilt may haunt them continuously. This could lead to depression, according to Ratna.

Getting married is not the best answer, although it seems to be the common solution. For most people, having a child outside of wedlock is a disgrace. Therefore, many girls base their marriages not on love, but on pregnancy. They marry to guarantee legal protection for the child and to save their family's honor. Soon after the baby is born, they get a divorce. This is often followed by a dispute about who has the right to the baby. In some cases, however, the couples are quite happy and the marriage is successful.

Another way to deal with unwanted pregnancies is by what people call "evacuation". Under this strategy, the girl is evacuated to a far off relative's home, where she stays until the baby is born. Usually the baby is adopted by the relative or anyone who wants the child.

Society has a double standard when it comes to teenage pregnancy. On one hand they condemn abortion, but on the other, they humiliate single women who are pregnant as well as their children.

Abortion is widespread, even though it is against the law. Given the fact that it is illegal, girls who do not receive proper treatment are afraid to complain. Complaining is useless anyway because they are not protected by law. Closing down or punishing the clinics which perform abortions will not solve the problem. Desperate girls will continue to seek abortions unless society changes its attitude and accepts single mothers.

"Many teenagers are pregnant because of our contradictory outlook. We prohibit them (from having sex before marriage) but we do not give them adequate information," Ieda said.

Instead of blaming teenagers who get pregnant, people should look at themselves and see what they can do to cope with the problem. If teenagers want to keep their babies, it is necessary for the public to give them support. Teachers should also encourage pregnant students to continue their studies. Most drop out soon after their pregnancy becomes obvious.

"Let's face the problem and try to solve it. Otherwise the number of illegal abortions will rise. There will be more teenagers without futures," Ieda stressed. (sim)