Dr. Nanci Coppola is teaching a holistic approach to dealing with the behavioral problems of young people in America.
Coppola is the CEO of Program Reach, Inc., a program devoted to youth empowerment based in New York City. Her experience as a doctor, teacher and now director of a youth program gave her insight into the problems that youth face and how these problems can be diminished and remedied. Coppola shared her researchwith the World Congress of Families IX on Thursday at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
“If we want to reduce risky behavior, we have to focus on a holistic approach,” Coppola said.
Coppola began by citing several statistics on teenager’s (ages 12 to 18) unhealthy behaviors with drugs, gangs, alcohol, violence and sex.
Coppola’s research showed that 25 percent of the youth had been in one or more fights in the past 12 months, 38 percent drank alcohol and 23 percent used marijuana one or more times in the past 30 days and 47 percent had sex at least once during high school.
Coppola said that one unhealthy behavior leads to another, and the one behavior many teenagers start with is sex.
“The good news is that the number of students who have sex during high school is going down,” Coppola said. “But no one is telling the youth that.”
According to Coppola, the common thought is that “everyone is having sex.”
Coppola explained that is not true. She showed statistics stating that the majority of high-school teenagers are not having sex. However, the idea that “everyone is doing it,” encourages teenagers to have sex in order to fit in. Coppola then asked the audience who, according to teenagers, pressures them to have sex the most.
“The media,” one participant guessed.
“No. Their high school health teacher,” Coppola said.
Coppola explained that health teachers who teach sexual education “only teach how to use a condom.” The health teachers tell the students that everyone is having sex, so it is best to have safe sex.
However, sex with a condom is not safe. Even people that use a condom 100 percent of the time, and use it 100 percent correctly, only have a 30 percent chance of blocking a sexually-transmitted disease, according to Coppola.
What Coppola encourages instead is to teach youth about abstinence and the virtue of waiting to be in a monogamous relationship.
“That is what they want to hear anyways, because teenagers are forgetful,” Coppola said. “They forget to bring a pencil to class; do you really think they are going to remember to bring a condom when they have sex?”
According to Coppola, 94 percent of teenagers want a strong message to not have sex until they are out of high school, and 64 percent of teenagers believe that they need to be taught health information as well as morals and values in sex education.
Coppola quoted one of the designers of a public high school sex education, who said, “Even though the curriculum was designed to reduce unprotected intercourse… It clearly had a greater impact on delaying sexual initiation than on increasing birth control This suggests that it may actually be easier to delay sexual activity than to encourage protected intercourse.”
Coppola concluded by outlining risk avoidance education. This approach focuses on building an adolescent’s self-esteem so they believe they have the power to make their own decisions and take control of their own health and future.
“Teenagers don’t need to come from a good family to have a good life,” Coppola said. “What determines behavior is whether or not a person believes they can change and control their behavior.”