When the news first came out about the school health center in Maine that's proposing to prescribe birth control pills to middle-school girls, the debate mostly centered on the morality of it -- whether making The Pill available is a good thing, because it prevents teen pregnancies, or a bad thing, because it encourages pre-teen sex.
But a Blogging Baby post last week got me thinking of another angle to this issue, which is: Kids who are getting prescriptions without telling their parents are probably not telling their pediatricians either, and may not know enough about their own health histories or drug interactions to know when they're putting themselves in danger. Would a middle-schooler know, for example, if her family had a history of blood clots, making birth-control pills ill-advised?
This is something that parents of children with special needs, especially those with invisible disabilities, will need to be particularly attuned to. Some medications reduce the effectiveness of birth-control pills, and others have their effectiveness reduced by it. Some medical conditions may make oral contraception less than safe, or at least require strict monitoring.
Ideally, you'd have one primary-care physician coordinating all care and prescriptions, and one pharmacist processing those pills as a second level of safety. Clinics allowing kids to get medications of any sort without direct parental involvement circumvent those precautions. For some young students, that may not be a big issue. But if your daughter has a health condition or is taking medication -- especially if it's something she'd just as soon people not know about -- it could be a very big deal indeed.
The best way for parents to prevent these problems isn't to forbid school clinics from prescribing medicine. I'll admit, I'm not comfortable with schools taking on that role. But the presence or absence of these programs is not something individual Moms and Dads can have a whole lot of control over.
We do, though, have control over what we communicate, and communication can be a powerful help here. Communicate with your child about her medical history and the precautions she will need to take, as soon as you reasonably can. Communicate with your child, too, about sex in such a way that she won't be afraid to come to you and her doctor for contraceptive advice.
Communicate with the school about all your child's health and mental-health issues, including medications used. And, if the school has a clinic and you want to give permission for your child to use it, communicate with the personnel there so that they know everything they need to without your young person having to report it. Communicate with your pediatrician, too, to make sure you're thinking of all necessary cautions.
The book Easy for You to Say has lots of information -- maybe more than you really want to know -- about issues of sexuality and birth control for various chronic illnesses and disabilities. It might be a good thing to share with your young person, or read in preparation for a conversation. It's a place to start, anyway, down a road most parents don't particularly want to travel.Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images