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'Teen Mom' parents Amber and Gary: It's important to openly discuss birth control and safe sex with our high-school daughter

Photo of Gary Shirley and his daughter, Leah, sitting on a porch, looking at one another, having a serious conversation. Gary has a shaved head and stubble around his chin and upper lip. He wears a white and navy blue trucker hat and long sleeve green button down shirt and has a red, grey, and his hands under a white fleece blanket on his lap. Leah has brown hair pulled back into a bun, blue eyes, and wears a pink waffle-weave sweater. She has a pink blanket on her lap and crosses her arms. Behind them is a lawn with several trees without any leaves.
Gary Shirley and his daughter, Leah, from the tv show, "Teen Mom: The Next Chapter."Courtesy of MTV
  • Amber Portwood and Gary Shirley talked about their daughter going on birth control.

  • Shirley said it doesn't mean he's encouraging her to have sex — he just wants her to be safe.

  • The coparents hope to show parents and teens how to have these conversations.

On a recent episode of "Teen Mom: The Next Chapter" — which follows Amber Portwood and Gary Shirley from "Teen Mom OG (2009)" — the coparents talked to their daughter, 14-year-old Leah, about deciding to take birth-control pills. In another clip, Shirley sat down with his wife, Kristina, to discuss how their doctor had given Leah a sex-education talk and then suggested she take birth control to help regulate her menstrual cycle.

Conversations like these aren't new for this parenting trio, Portwood said in an interview with Insider. "Gary, me, and Kristina, we've really tried to build that relationship, so I'm glad Leah sees that support," Portwood said. "She has some pretty tough people around her that can keep guiding her and showing her how to move forward in a positive way in life."

Portwood explained that shying away from conversations about sex and birth control could come at the expense of a child's mental health, career, and future. "There are so many young girls who are getting pregnant at an even younger age than 14 that birth control should be talked about," she said.

Shirley agreed, saying that supporting Leah's decision to go on birth control doesn't mean he's encouraging her to have sex. "No, that's me saying, 'Be safe if you're going to make a bad decision.' I'd rather her have the tools if she's going to do something." he said.

Having open conversations makes teens feel supported

Ultimately, it was Leah's decision to share the discussion on camera. "My daughter had the choice to do it, and people need to have that safe space," Shirley said. However, they thought it was important to share the conversation publicly to help other parents and teens get a sense of how these conversations can go. "Parents can say, 'That's a private moment.' But here's the problem: Nobody wants to have a conversation or very few people have that conversation," he said.

Portwood said she hopes other parents will see Leah's story and have a better understanding of their teens' point of view. "In my mind, Leah is uplifting parents and other teenage girls to speak with their parents and for them to get involved," she said.

Portwood is impressed by Leah's maturity in handling these sensitive discussions. Even though Portwood has been on TV since she was 18 years old, she said she wouldn't have been able to speak so confidently about sex and birth control at the age of 14. "There are so many eyes on young girls who are going into high school, but as for my daughter, to watch her be so open and honest and talk about her experiences of why she's doing it and feels like she needs that backup support with her parents, it's really kind of a beautiful thing," she said.

The National Bureau of Economic Research attributed the show in helping to reduce teen pregnancy to record lows between 2009 and 2010.

Provide some guidance but let them live their lives

With Leah starting high school this year, Portwood couldn't help reflecting on her own experience as a freshman. "She's a very mature, beautiful young woman and it's so different from how me and Gary were. We were wild, yeah," she said to Shirley with a laugh.

Shirley explained that boyfriends aren't a priority for Leah at the moment. "She's not dating right now," he said. "She's just focusing on school and cross-country. I even told her maybe we should just focus on you, school, and making friends. Because boyfriends will come and go, and the friends you make now will be there for a very long time, if not forever."

Portwood and Shirley have nothing but praise for Leah, saying they just want her to be prepared for whatever her future holds. "I guess I'm just really proud to see the young lady that she's become and I'm just so hopeful for her future," Portwood said.

Shirley said it's a learning process to be more hands-off with Leah's routines like waking up and getting ready for school. But he and Kristina still keep daily tabs on Leah's schoolwork to make sure she stays on track.

Close up photo of Gary Shirley and his daughter, Leah, sitting on a porch. Gary looks down smiling and has a shaved head and stubble around his chin and upper lip. He wears a white and navy blue trucker hat and long sleeve green button down shirt. Leah has brown hair pulled back into a bun, dark eyes, and wears a pink waffle-weave sweater. She looks at him, smiling.
Gary Shirley and Leah.Courtesy of MTV

"She's a very smart cookie, very motivated, and I'm proud of her," Shirley said. "I just feel like she's going to have a bright future and she's going to help somebody at some point. But it's a little sad because she's just one year closer to being her own person and it's one more step to her being an adult."

You can watch the new season of "Teen Mom: The Next Chapter" on MTV on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

Read the original article on Insider