My 13-year-old still cuddles a teddy. How can schools give girls like her contraceptive implants
Just imagine the scenario: you are preparing for your daughter’s 14th birthday. Though she can slam doors and sulk like any stroppy teenager, in your heart, she is still your precious baby.
So you buy a sparkly, soppy birthday card alongside the rock band T-shirt you hate, but know she wants.
It’s when you’re adding the final sparkles and candles to her birthday cupcakes that she tells you she’s been in a sexual relationship for nine months. And then she informs you that she was implanted with a contraceptive device at her school two months after she turned 13.
Last year, 1,700 girls in Britain aged 13 and 14 were fitted with contraceptive implants, while 800 had injections that have the same effect
Moreover, she expects you to feel grateful that she’s told you. She didn’t have to because, under patient confidentiality legislation, what happens between her and the school doctor is none of your business. You’re only her mother after all. Hard as it is for me as a mother of a 13-year-old to believe, this is no grim futuristic vision. Girls as young as my adopted daughter are being given contraceptive implants at school without their parents’ knowledge. Nurses insert devices into their arms that are designed to prevent pregnancy for three years.
Last year, 1,700 girls in Britain aged 13 and 14 were fitted with implants, while 800 had injections that have the same effect (though last for only three months).
Under strict patient confidentiality rules, staff are not allowed to ask parents their permission or even inform them afterwards.
My 13-year-old is achingly beautiful, but still more of a bashful tomboy than a coquette. Despite the black eyeliner, obligatory among her peers, she wears jeans and baggy jumpers and has an endearing fondness for woolly socks and furry slippers. She is still happy to play catch with her seven-year-old sister.
Sometimes, when I go to give her a goodnight kiss, there is a mountain of cuddly toys to negotiate before I can get anywhere near her bed. On other nights, I find the pair of them curled up asleep together clutching their teddy bears and Babar elephants.
Decline: In Southampton, nine secondary schools are offering implants
and injections, while the NHS asserts that teenage pregnancies have
Like most teenagers, my elder daughter probably prefers the company of Facebook to that of her family, and she is unlikely ever to be more than two rings away from her mobile, but other than that she is still essentially our beloved little girl.
Of course there have been ‘boyfriends’ and moments of anguish and pain. Recently, we worried about a relationship that involved thousands of texts a month between our daughter and a 15-year-old boy. That came to an end soon after we found out about the texts (mobile phone bills always tell a tale).
Though she was naturally defensive about feeling hurt, she was still able to discuss her feelings with us. We talked about sex and she assured us she wanted to wait until she was ready.
I am not so naive as to think that we know everything that goes on in our teenager’s life, but I do know we can offer her love, guidance and support when she needs it. After all, I remember adolescence being a frightening, lonely time when I desperately needed my mother despite my simultaneous attempts to assert my independence.
What horrifies me most about the use of these contraceptive implants is that parents will effectively be cut out of any decision-making process that our daughters are taking about sex — a landmark in their emotional and physical development.
Not only that, it is stripping morality out of the debate about sex and reducing it to a biological event that might result in pregnancy. The message seems to be: have this implant, then if you have sex you won’t get pregnant. Isn’t that tantamount to inviting an impressionable young girl to experiment
It is stripping the morality out of sex and reducing it to a biological event which might result in pregnancy
Others will argue we must do anything we can to reduce teenage pregnancy rates. And yes, it has long been a disgrace that Britain continues to have such a high level — twice that of France and Germany and five times the rate in the Netherlands.
In Southampton, where nine secondary schools are offering these implants and injections, the NHS asserts that teenage pregnancies have fallen.
Yet I would argue that Britain’s woeful record has less to do with the lack of readily available contraception and more to do with the crumbling of any moral or ethical framework of support that parents have traditionally provided their children. Giving girls implants without telling their parents can only accelerate that erosion.
Some mothers have said it is 'frightening' that schools are giving girls contraceptive implants without telling them
As the Mail reports today, it transpires that the number of girls aged 15 or younger being given these implants or injections has more than doubled in five years. According to NHS figures, 7,400 girls had one or other treatment last year, up from 2,900 in 2005/6.
It’s one thing to make available contraception and other remedies to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (such as jabs against cervical cancer). It’s another to provide these drugs without parental consultation.
Shockingly, mothers who have challenged these patient confidentiality rules in the past have lost in court or in the House of Lords.
For mothers being left out of the loop we don't even know what this treatment will do to our daughters
Of course, children must be able to talk to a doctor confidentially. No one would dispute a child’s right to voice fear or concern away from a parent who might present a danger to them. However, it is a dramatic step for schools to invade our children’s bodies with surgical procedures without our knowledge.
So I sympathise with one Southampton mother of a 13-year-old given an implant who said: ‘I feel really angry. I agree that teaching teenagers about sexual health and contraception is very important, but this is a step too far. I have spoken to a lot of parents at the school and they were horrified to find out this was happening.’
What is frightening for mothers being left out of the loop is that we don’t even know what this treatment will do to our daughters. We know implants and injections provide a steady supply of the hormone progesterone, which prevents pregnancy by stopping the monthly release of eggs.
We also know side effects can include depression, weight gain, acne and irregular periods, but no one knows the long-term effects.
Side effects: A 13-year-old girl said she 'felt like having sex' after having a contraceptive implant fitted at school without her mother knowing
If children can obtain contraception so easily and at such a young age, what can the future possibly hold other than a generation of young people for whom sex is no more than a meaningless act
Depressingly, recent NHS figures show nearly one in three 16 to 24-year-olds admitted to being 15 or under when they had sex for the first time. Yet that only proves my point that parents need to be more aware of their daughters’ sex lives, not less.
How are we to guide, nurture and safeguard our children if we are locked out of all decisions about how they go about their sex lives
Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said recently: ‘The ready availability of contraception means that a girl’s fear of pregnancy is no longer considered a good enough reason for rejecting her boyfriend’s advances. And confidentiality policies mean that a girl need not worry about what her parents would think about her being sexually active, obtaining contraception, being treated for a sexually transmitted infection or even having an abortion, because they don’t have to be told.’
Already schools have been handing out the morning-after pill. I admit that if I knew my daughter had unprotected sex I would probably be relieved she had taken the pill.
Yet that is an altogether different measure from pumping her full of hormones so she need not even think about the consequences of jumping into bed with a boy.
How will girls who have had these implants refuse the ever more insistent sexual advances of teenage boys once one of the main reasons for saying ‘No’ — the fear of pregnancy — is removed
Not only that, how many girls will have sex after being given an implant, only to contract a sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia
I feel helpless thinking of the peer pressure my daughter might face if her school gave her an implant without telling me. For all I know it already has. That’s what is so morally reprehensible about these implants, dressed up as a bogus measure to prevent teenage pregnancies.
What they are doing is shattering those crucial bonds of trust that mothers try so hard to maintain with their daughters, and sweeping away any hope of nurturing a loving, safe environment in which to bring up our children.