“Hey, Bethany? So why DO you do this work?” This is a question I get a lot when I’m in the community representing the Berks Teens Matter team.
I do this work for a lot of different reasons, but it begins with a passion I have for engaging with and working with youth.
The Future is Our Youth
Youth are our hope. I believe they are hope for real change to promote consent and respect in relationships. They are our hope to help educate, speak with their peers about sexuality, and share information. They are our hope for taking charge of their sexual health and deciding their future is in their hands.
And yes, while it’s true that Berks Teens Matter has an overall goal to reduce teen pregnancy by 40% in Berks County by 2022, the real work goes much further than that.
BTM advocates are committed to giving young people healthier and more fulfilling relationships with the people in their lives. We do this work because we believe that all youth have the right to engage in healthy relationships that include consensual intimacy.
Alarmingly, recent research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals that one in sixteen women report being raped or forced by coercion the first time they had sexual intercourse. This staggering number implies that we, adults and helping professionals, can do so much more to educate young people about consent.
Teach Our Children Well
Did you know that consent can be taught to very young children?
Think about that big, fuzzy Easter bunny at your local mall every spring or the old guy in the red suit in December. Kiddos line up to get that cute picture and we often find ourselves encouraging our children to sit on their laps, sometimes ignoring their cries of hesitation and pleading to not make them do it. By making this seemingly simple decision for our children, we are sending them an early message that their autonomy doesn’t matter.
I do this work because each young person should have a trusting adult in their life to share their concerns, and experiences, related to sexuality and relationships.
It Starts With Us
BTM advocates believe that parents and caregivers are the primary educators for their children. Conversations about sexuality and relationships should be considered within each family’s core values framework and principles. These values can also be used during rather difficult conversations about intimacy, relationships, boundaries, respect and consent.
We do this work because each young person should have access to information that will promote their sexual development. School systems offer minimal curriculum about adolescent development. And sometimes when the curriculum is available, it is much too late as youth are already experiencing puberty and sexual desires.
We believe that young people should have unlimited and consistent access to information about abstinence, relationships, consent, barrier methods, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pregnancy, and sexual development. STIs numbers among teens are rising, which means many teens are not practicing safe sex or considering the importance of their sexual health.
Our Health Resource Center at the Reading School District, offers one-on-one, confidential counseling about all of these topics to students. The HRC also has information about where students can get free screening for STIs and HIV.
I do this work because I believe that youth in our community need our support to empower their lives, and our trust that when given the tools and proper information, they will make the best decisions to impact their future.
Bethany Bower is the project manager for Berks Teens Matter. She works as a volunteer for the LGBTQ community and is an advocate for human rights.