After being invited to a couple of baby showers for teen mothers in recent years, I explained to my 12-year-old daughter that, while babies are a blessing, raising them requires an enormous amount of maturity, planning and responsibility — something for which a teenage mother may not initially be equipped.

I was relieved when my daughter said she and her friends made a pact to be abstinent.

“What if someone asked you, ‘What is wrong with you? Nobody’s a virgin. Everybody is doing it.’”

“Nothing is wrong with me,” my daughter said. I helped her add a few more reasons: being free of sexually transmitted diseases, not pregnant and feeling good, not regretful.

Pregnant adolescent girls are less likely to finish high school and their children are also less prepared for school.

Having one-on-one conversations with young people about their sexual health is urgent, said Jeanne Solis, director of Health Education Services for Central Louisiana’s Area Health Education Center.

“Teen parenting is becoming the norm, and it should not be,” said Solis, who is holding a discussion on “Teen Pregnancy Prevention” March 12 at the Gillis Long Center in Carville.

Louisiana has the sixth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, according to 2010 data by the Guttmacher Institute Report.

The West Baton Rouge Parish teen birth rate was 43.71 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19; Iberville Parish’s was 41.94, and the East Baton Rouge Parish rate was 28.93, according to the state’s Vital Records Registry preliminary report for 2013. Louisiana also has some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections in the country.

“What can we do as a society to work together to make a difference in lowering Louisiana’s teen birth rate and STDs’ rate?” asked Solis.

One barrier health educators want removed is the state’s restriction on allowing sexual-related data to be collected in schools, Solis said.

“Unless we know where kids stand, it’s hard to develop (health) programs,” she said.

The Central Louisiana AHEC program has worked with the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program since 2011 to provide teens with six months of life skills and lessons on sexual responsibility, Solis said.

“We talk to students about real things, and it’s a powerful experience. We talk about the dangers of sexting and whether the music you listen to, if graphic, is influencing you in a negative way. We have to make the right choices. Even if a song says the wrong thing, I can abstain or I can talk to my partner about being safe. A teen can say to someone pressuring them, ‘I have goals. I want to go to college.’”

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.