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MN's Captive Teen Audiences Learn Real-Life Consequences


Tuesday, April 2, 2013   

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Teens in juvenile detention settings in Minnesota are among the most at-risk for pregnancy or a sexually-transmitted disease, but new efforts are making a difference. According to David Kurtzon, program manager at Teenwise Minnesota, one such program that's having a positive impact is called SHARP.

"The Sexual Health and Adolescent Risk Prevention program is designed specifically for use with kids in detention to pretty much focus on developing better decision-making skills, better goal setting, better awareness of what kinds of choices kids have made," he stated.

Teenwise Minnesota is currently working with a number of county correctional facilities to bring the SHARP programming into those settings.

For the youth that have gone through the one-time SHARP session, Kurtzon said that even a year later, they were making fewer sexually-risky decisions.

"SHARP also involves a focus on alcohol abuse and understanding the connection between unsafe sexual behaviors and the use and abuse of alcohol," he noted. "And kids a year later were found to be using less alcohol, abusing alcohol less, which is, I think, pretty extraordinary for a year, with one three-and-a-half hour session to have effects a year later."

The importance of getting real-life information to these teenagers is well known to licensed psychologist Michael O'Brien, who has worked for 30 years with those in the juvenile justice system in Minnesota. He said the sex education most teens get these days is from the Internet, so they need to be taught the real-life consequences of contracting an STD or ending up pregnant.

"That you are going to be responsible for that child for 18 years, and here are what the costs are. And then they kind of gulp and go 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,'" as he described the reaction.

In Minnesota, some 5,000 teens get pregnant each year, while 50 percent of all sexually-active people will contract an STD by the age of 25. The numbers for young people in detention facilities are much greater.

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