Faith-based programs aim to intervene with teens

Published 11:07 pm Friday, September 4, 2009

Studies have been done.

Books have been written.

And, yet, there is still no consensus on what is driving more and more teenagers to enter into sexual relationships.

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But many local organizations are still trying to lead the way in educating, encouraging and challenging teens on the benefits of waiting.

Lighthouse Outreach Inc. is a non-profit organization that works to give young people safe alternatives and educational tools for making life decisions, such as the one to become sexually active.

After obtaining a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, Lighthouse partnered with Suffolk Public Schools to provide a new curriculum for the schools’ Family Life education that includes encouraging abstinence.

Cheryl Turner, program director for Lighthouse Outreach, said her organization puts the emphasis on developing in students “the ability to make good decisions and avoiding risky behavior.”

“And the ability to make good decisions and avoiding risky behavior involves receiving good information,” Turner said.

Turner added that today’s children are bombarded with false ideas of sex and dealing with lower self-images, which are created by the mainstream media. She said being able to make responsible decisions starts with overcoming those two barriers.

“It first starts with a strong sense of self-esteem, but then it moves into further understanding what some of your, what I call them, enemies are,” Turner said. “One of the biggest enemies is the media influence. What is seen and heard through the media is not the truth. Many times we are inclined to think it is truth, but it’s not.”

Turner said Lighthouse staffers work with young people to think through many of the risks associated with sexual activity.

“We tell them to think twice,” Turner said. “Thinking twice gives them the truth to think through, and to apply the good decision-making skills that they have learned. Is this good for me? Is this good for my future? Is what I’m believing the truth?”

However, local experts say teen sex is caused by even more than just low self-esteem and bad movies.

The Keim Center is a crisis pregnancy center with locations in Hampton Roads, including one here in Suffolk on North Main Street.

Sheena McAdoo, public relations director for The Keim Center, said the larger problem among young people is they think of sex solely as a physical act.

“A lot of times in our culture, our teens are just hearing that the physical aspect of sex is what everyone does,” McAdoo said.

“Most of them don’t hear how it affects your heart, your emotions, your intellect or your relationships. When you make a decision to have sex outside of marriage, you’re risking not only your physical health, but your emotional, intellectual and spiritual health, as well. You’re not going to walk away without being hurt in someway.”

McAdoo said The Keim Center offers a Sexual Integrity program, which aims to teach people about the whole effect sex has in their lives.

“We try to make an impact on their decision-making and their thought processes,” she said. “How will sex affect my life? How will it affect my decision-making? How will it affect my future and my family’s future?”

McAdoo added that while many teenagers are desensitized to the dangers and risks of sexual activity, so are many of the adults that teens may be modeling.

“It’s broader than just teenagers,” McAdoo said. “It’s more prevalent with the younger ones, because they are more immature, but adults still have that mindset about things. They are just living it up and not caring.”