Men in Mayo who became parents in their teenage years are being called on to help encourage secondary school students across the county to seriously consider and understand the consequences of early sexual activity.
The former teen parents are to bring their message to students as part of an intervention programme called The Real Deal.
The programme is now recruiting men in Mayo to become ‘peer educators’ to deliver the workshops in schools from January.
Anne Fitzpatrick, programme manager of The Real Deal, said the initiative complements the existing school relationships and sexuality education curriculum.
It has already been delivered to 669 girls in Mayo but will now be expanded to target teenage boys as well.
“Its strength is that it uses peer educators to highlight the possible ramifications of becoming sexually active at a young age,” said Ms Fitzpatrick. “Additionally it equips teenagers with the skills to make healthy, responsible, decisions about relationships and sex.”
Ms Fitzpatrick said television and films tend to either glamourise or stigmatise teenager parenthood but The Real Deal peer educators highlight the realities of life as a teenage parent.
“The Real Deal reiterates and reinforces the fact that the decision to have sex is a huge decision and shouldn’t be something that teenagers get involved in because of alcohol use and pressure from the media and/or friends,” continued Ms Fitzpatrick.
“[It] encourages young people to give serious consideration to this decision and, should they decide to engage in a sexual relationship, the consequences are highlighted to them, namely the very real risks of becoming pregnant and contracting an STI.”
The Real Deal was launched in Mayo as a pilot project, in collaboration with Mayo General Hospital and HSE West’s Community Services, in 2011.
This is the first time The Real Deal is recruiting dads in Mayo to speak to teen boys about their experiences.
Research by The Real Deal team in Mayo, following the 2011/2012 pilot programme, found that 76 per cent of the teenagers surveyed were not sexually active, which supports most national research on the issue.
Of the 24 per cent of the teenagers who were sexually active, the average age of first intercourse was 15.6 years.
Ninety-seven per cent of those students who reported being sexually active also used alcohol and 28 per cent had used illegal drugs.
Over half of the respondents (60 per cent ) reported that they had received sex education in secondary school, but only 19 per cent felt that they had received enough sex education.
Ms Fitzpatrick said the reaction to the Real Deal from both teachers and students has so far been overwhelmingly positive.
Students surveyed after taking the workshops reported that the most enjoyable part of the day was hearing about the real life experiences of women and men who became parents at a young age.
The teenagers who took the workshop also reported changes in behaviour towards more consistent contraceptive use and an increased understanding of the realities of teenage parenthood.
For more information, contact Anne Fitzpatrick at [email protected].