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The Drop in Teen Pregnancy is No Mystery

Published by, July 20, 2017

The Drop in Teen Pregnancy is No Mystery: Our communities made plans to prevent unplanned pregnancies


You may have missed this good news in the middle of the white noise coming from the White House. Their antics seem to eclipse the real news as well as any victories that we should be celebrating and building on. The recent reports of the historic low in U.S. teen pregnancy rates is one such example.

U.S. pregnancy rates are still higher than our counterparts in the industrialize world, and has been for a while. As much as North Korea is demonized (with sound reasons), it has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world.

Teen pregnancies have devastating consequences on teens in general but for teens locked in a world of poverty, an unplanned pregnancy is almost a guarantee for a diminished quality of life. The pregnancies are costly in terms of health and lost opportunities for better life chances. It is estimated that it costs taxpayers almost $10 billion to deal with the by-products of unplanned pregnancies of teens. This includes increased health care and foster care. It means paying out for increased incarceration rates among children of teen parents. It covers lost tax revenue due to drop-outs and unmet education achievement that funnels youth into low-wage jobs. It means a costly commitment to the intergenerational poverty with the likelihood that the children of teenage mothers are more likely to have troubles with learning, have more health problems, be victims of the justice system, and be teen mothers themselves.

The good news is that teen pregnancies in this country have been decreasing over the last couple of decades. For Black and Brown teens, the prospects are most encouraging. Last year, the rates for these groups showed a historic low in teen births. Recently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Guttmacher Institute reported continued decreases in the rates.

This nation must do a lot more on educating young people on sex, especially given their over-exposure to sex through TV, movies, games and porno. Then people can see how out of touch and un-informed our legislators and policy-makers are on this topic. Remember the good ole boy from Missouri who made the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate rape. Former State Rep. Todd Aiken’s version of how a woman’s body can shut down during rape to prevent a pregnancy costs him his senate election. More important, the backward statement put a spotlight on the Neanderthal thinking that leads to policies and laws that are harmful to girls and women.

Here’s where I think the rubber is meeting the road away from teen births. For the last decade or so, many organizations have made this issue a focus by putting attention and resources on girls. There has been a plethora of girl-centered programs, projects and campaigns to emphasize and illuminate the worth of girls. From Girls Incorporated to “Black Girls Rock”, females of all ages are understanding the keys to unlocking their power. I’m proud to say my own youth organization hasn’t seen a pregnancy since the 1980’s. That was planned!

Girls are being funneled into more math and science programs and projects. They are being mentored by empowered women from career fields to entrepreneurs to community organizers. I believe these unseen and unmeasurable roles and activities often get minimized when it comes to ensuring that girls—especially girls in poverty—see their full potential and are enthusiastically supported in reaching those heights. We need to do more of this kind of engagement and mentoring.

Declining teen birth rates is great news but we can’t sit on our laurels. Let’s continue to show young boys and girls the benefits of delaying sex and having babies by making sure there are plenty of opportunities for supervised fun, academic enrichment and personal development. But we can’t have our heads in the sand when we know young people are sexually active. We must make sure they have all the information and supplies needed to make informed decisions. It’s in our power to stop the cycle of babies having babies.

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