This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface


Reducing Teenage Pregnancy and Helping Teenage Mothers



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Reducing Teenage Pregnancy and Helping Teenage Mothers


Teenage pregnancies cannot occur in either of these two situations: (1) Teenagers do not have sex, or (2) they use effective contraception if they do have sex. If we could wave a magic wand or turn the clock back to before the 1960s, it might be possible to greatly reduce the number of teenagers who have sex, but that day is long past. Teenage sex increased during the 1960s and 1970s and, despite some slight declines after HIV and AIDS became a worldwide problem during the 1980s and 1990s, remains much more frequent than before the sexual revolution. Most sexual behavior researchers believe that pleas for abstinence, as well as sex education programs that focus solely or almost entirely on abstinence, do not help to reduce teen sex and pregnancy (Ball & Moore, 2008). [14]

If this is true, they say, then the best strategy is to use a harm reduction approach. We first encountered this term in Chapter 7 "Alcohol and Other Drugs"’s discussion of illegal drugs. A harm reduction approach recognizes that because certain types of harmful behavior are inevitable, our society should do its best to minimize the various kinds of harm that these various behaviors generate. In regard to teenage sex and pregnancy, a harm reduction approach has two goals: (1) to help reduce the risk for pregnancy among sexually active teens and (2) to help teenage mothers and their children.


Reducing Pregnancy


To achieve the first goal, parents, sex education classes, family planning clinics, youth development programs, and other parties must continue to emphasize the importance of waiting to have sex but also the need for teenagers to use contraception if they are sexually active. In addition, effective contraception (birth control pills, other hormonal control, and also condoms, which protect against STDs) must be made available for teenagers at little or no cost. Studies indicate that these two contraception strategies do not lead to more teenage sex, and they also indicate that consistent contraceptive use greatly reduces the risk of teenage pregnancy. As one writer has summarized these studies’ conclusions, “Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain…When contraception is unavailable, the likely consequences is not less sex, but more pregnancy” (Kristof, 2011, p. A31). [15]


People Making a Difference


Helping Teenagers Reduce the Risk of Pregnancy

The Metro Council for Teen Potential (MCTP) is a membership coalition in Rochester, New York, that “promotes a comprehensive community-wide approach to foster youth assets and youth health,” according to its website. To do so, MCTP provides various kinds of information to its member agencies and organizations, including the latest data on pregnancy and other problems facing teens and the latest information on the “best practices” to use to help teens. It has also developed a youth curriculum and media campaign aimed at informing youths about risky behaviors, sexuality, and other aspects of their lives. Its member groups include the Rochester School District and youth development organizations throughout Rochester.

An important focus of MCTP’s efforts is teen pregnancy, and MCTP has received substantial funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to formulate and implement strategies to prevent teen pregnancies. Its website includes results from a random survey of Rochester-area teens about their sexual behavior, views about teen pregnancy, substance use, and other behaviors and attitudes. The website also includes some basic data on Rochester teens’ sexual experiences. For example, the 2006 teen birth rate in Rochester was 76 births per 1,000 girls ages 15–19; this rate was much higher than the US rate of 42 and the New York state rate of 26.

MCTP supports several initiatives in Rochester that focus on teenage sexuality and pregnancy. One set of programs called CONECTS provides a variety of teenage pregnancy prevention strategies through such subcontractors as the YWCA. Another program, In-Control, provides reproductive health care and education through Planned Parenthood. A third program, Family Talk, involves workshops that aim to help parents of teens talk more effectively with their children about sexuality and substance abuse.

For these and other efforts, MCTP has won the Organizational Award from the Youth Services Quality Council for the high quality of its work for youths and their families. In helping to reduce teen pregnancy and address other problems facing teenagers in Rochester, the Metro Council for Teen Potential is making a difference. For further information, visit its website athttp://www.metrocouncil.us.

In this regard, a recent report of the Guttmacher Institute called contraception a “proven, cost-effective strategy” (Gold, 2011, p. 7). [16] It added, “Contraception is almost universally accepted as a way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy…Contraceptive use reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy significantly, and consistent contraceptive use virtually eliminates it.” The report noted that government-funded family planning agencies prevent 2 million unintended pregnancies annually by providing contraception to 9 million young and low-income women each year. Because most of the women who would have these prevented pregnancies would be eligible for Medicaid, the Medicaid savings from these prevented pregnancies amount to about $7 billion annually. An expansion of family planning services would almost certainly be an effective strategy for reducing teenage pregnancies as well as unplanned pregnancies among older women.

Another strategy to prevent teenage pregnancy involves the use of early childhood intervention (ECI) programs. Many such programs exist, but they generally involve visits by social workers, nurses, and other professionals to the homes of children who are at risk for neurological, emotional, and/or behavioral problems during their first several years and also as they grow into adolescents and young adults (Kahn & Moore, 2010). [17] It might sound like a stereotype, but these children are disproportionately born to single, teenage mothers and/or to slightly older parents who live in poverty or near poverty. Long-term evaluation studies show that the best of these programs reduce the likelihood that the very young children they help will become pregnant or have children of their own after they become teenagers (Ball & Moore, 2008). [18] In effect, helping young children today helps prevent teenage pregnancy tomorrow.


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