Blunt ad campaign driving teens to talk about sex

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AMARILLO – Parents in Amarillo are talking to their children about sex.

They have little choice, actually. A series of billboard, radio, newspaper and television advertisements plainly broach the subject of teenage sex and pregnancy.

The Amarillo Area Foundation launched the teen pregnancy prevention campaign after Potter County posted one of Texas' highest rates of teen pregnancy in 1996 – third out of the state's 254 counties.

Waiting at a traffic light, an Amarillo mother and daughter couldn't help but notice a towering billboard with the message, "Talk to your teens about sex. Now."

As the single mother fidgeted, her 12-year-old grinned. "Well?" she said, pointing to the sign. "Go ahead."

In Canyon, a 13-year-old watched a TV commercial showing a girl her age holding an infant and talking about all the fun things she can't do now that she's a mom.

"Wow," she told her mother, "I never thought about sex like that."

Those reactions are just what the Amarillo Area Foundation hoped for when it launched its campaign on Aug. 1.

The media spots advise kids to "wait to have sex" while counseling parents to start talking to their children right away.

A boy with long hair and baggy shorts talks about the burning sores of herpes; a father says he should have kept his daughter away from an older guy; a mother warns about the "deadly consequences" of sexual activity, and more.

"We really weren't sure what kind of response we'd receive from the public," said Ashley Allison, director of community services for the Amarillo Area Foundation.

"The commercials are pretty hard-hitting, but, so far, almost all of the calls have been very positive. Our staff is logging all comments, and media experts will analyze ... [the comments] over the next few months."

The foundation announced its initiative after two years of examining teen pregnancy issues in Potter and Randall counties.

"This is the first time we've had a comprehensive program to try to prevent teen pregnancy," said Gloria Roberts, who teaches a teenage parenting program in Amarillo schools. "It's something we've needed for a long time. We've put a Band-Aid on this situation too many times."

Claudia Stravato, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and Canyon, said the initiative represented a "giant step."

"I think it's very positive that we're beginning to talk about the 'S' word in Amarillo," Ms. Stravato told the Amarillo Globe-News. "In a conservative community like this, it's important to get parents and community institutions comfortable talking about sexuality and how to deal with it."