Coalition, PowerPoint try to build awareness, foster open discussion

Troubling statistics show the teen pregnancy rate in Kandiyohi far exceeds the state average. In 2006, the Kandiyohi County teen pregnancy rate for 15- to 19-year-olds was 55.4 per 1,000. By contrast, the overall Minnesota teen pregnancy rate -- ...

Troubling statistics show the teen pregnancy rate in Kandiyohi far exceeds the state average.

In 2006, the Kandiyohi County teen pregnancy rate for 15- to 19-year-olds was 55.4 per 1,000.

By contrast, the overall Minnesota teen pregnancy rate -- which includes live births, miscarriages and abortions -- was 38.4 per 1,000.

The statistics should snap the community out of a false sense of security that kids are receiving the information they need to make healthy decisions, said Mary Holstad, community outreach coordinator for the Kandiyohi County-based Coalition for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality.

A statewide decline in the pregnancy rate in Minnesota for the past 20 years "lulled" people into thinking there wasn't an immediate problem.


People need to know the new statistics, said Holstad.

According to figures the coalition obtained from the Minnesota Department of Health, the number of babies born to Kandiyohi County's 15- to 19-year-olds was 49.6 per 1,000 in 2006.

That was higher than the state rate of 27.9.

On top of that, there has been a 21 percent increase in sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, in Minnesota teens from 2001 to 2006. And a new national study shows 25 percent of females aged 14 to 19 have had a sexually transmitted disease.

While the statistics are troubling, the effect would be even grimmer if that's where the story ended.

Armed with research, resources and a clear mission statement, the Coalition for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality is hoping to reduce the teen pregnancy rate and help youth make healthy choices.

A major key to that plan is parents.

Despite the common belief that teens listen to their friends more than their parents, surveys show parents play a bigger role than they may realize when it comes to teens delaying sexual activity, said Holstad.


In a 2007 Minnesota student survey, ninth- and 12th-grade girls said the number one reason they would abstain from sex is because one or both parents would object. It was the number two reason for ninth-grade boys.

The youth "really want more adults in their lives," said Deb Schmitzerle, a public health nurse who is part of the coalition.

"The kids themselves are asking for more conversation," said Sara Hankel, executive director of the Hope Pregnancy Center in Willmar and coalition member.

A survey taken this year of 149 Kandiyohi County parents indicated most thought their children were receiving information about sexuality from schools. Parents may believe that "schools are doing it all" when that may not be the case, said Holstad.

The parents also ranked peers, media and faith-based organizations high on the list as places they thought children get information. The media can bombard kids with unhealthy messages that encourage kids to consider sex as entertainment. Parents can sometimes feel "sort of powerless" to fight that, said Bill Gulbrandsen, a member of the coalition.

In the survey, 84 percent said parents should be the primary educators on issues pertaining to sexuality.

Knowing they "should" be the ones to provide information on sexuality to their children, however, is different than knowing how to do to it and then actually doing it.

Discussing sexuality can be a difficult conversation between parents and adolescents.


"It's a sensitive topic," said Holstad.

The local survey indicated a vast majority of parents had age-appropriate discussions with their children at least once. Many had regular or frequent conversations. Only 17 of the 149 parents said they had never discussed the topic with their kids. While that's good news, Doris Cogelow, a coalition member and public health nurse, said a parent's perception of discussing sex might be different than their child's.

Practical how-to handouts and a list of Internet resources compiled by the coalition can provide the help parents need to broach the topic with their children.

"Parents, we're here to support you," said Holstad. "We'll help you find some tools so you can begin the process." The coalition also wants to hear from parents and find out what they want and need in order to talk to their kids.

Community awareness and involvement is also necessary, said Hankel. "Everyone needs to be concerned about this," she said.

The coalition, which is a group of professionals and concerned community volunteers, has put together a PowerPoint presentation on the statistics and tips for helping to create healthy adolescents. The coalition has a panel of qualified speakers that are available to present the information to church, service and community groups.

The Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg School District has already taken advantage of the coalition's informational presentation to address a reported increase in teen pregnancies at KMS schools this year that has officials and community residents concerned. The KMS School District is "no different" than any other Minnesota community in terms of teen sexual activity, said Holstad.

Asking the question, "what's going on?" is one of the first steps to realizing that youth aren't getting the right kind of information about sexuality, said Holstad.


That message includes more that just "the talk" and "cookie cutter" answers, said Hankel. Instead, it's a day-by-day reinforcement of values and open communication between parents, children and the community they live in.

Making sure teens know they are a valued part of the community and making sure that they stay in school and interact with their families means they are more likely to initiate sex later and less likely to have a child during their teen years, said Holstad.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
What To Read Next
Get Local