By Leah Trotter D’Antonio
According to the latest information from the Center for Disease Control, in 2005 the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. was at the lowest it had been in two decades. However, it is still the highest of any other industrialized nation in the world.
It is important to note that African-American teen pregnancy rate is still significantly higher than its white peers and is second only to Hispanics. The overall teen pregnancy rate peaked in 1990. Although there was a significant reduction in teen pregnancy across all racial groups in 2005, there were increases in the overall rate in 2006 and then again in 2007. The data also suggests that the highest rate of increase was among African-Americans. Despite, the plateau in rates, it’s not time to celebrate yet. New efforts need to be implemented to further the progress.
Teen pregnancy poses numerous threats to the life of the young mother and the child she’s carrying. Studies show that a teen mother will deliver her baby prematurely more often than any other age group and she will not get the prenatal care that’s needed to ensure a safe, healthy pregnancy. As a result, babies born to teen mothers often suffer low birth weight and overall developmental problems. In addition to the health risks, teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school than their peers who delay having children. Without an education, the young mother doesn’t have the skills needed to compete in the job market, resulting in low pay and/or chronic unemployment. Studies also show that 25% of all teen mothers under 18 have their 2nd child within 2 years after the birth of their first child. With this dismal outlook and no new viable solution in sight, how do we save our daughters and prevent them from suffering a similar fate? How do we insulate them?
In 2009, the Obama Administration allocated $110 million to fund various programs and organizations that focus on preventing teen pregnancy. While some programs are centered on abstinence, like the National Abstinence Education Association, others focus their efforts on safe sex, like the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Regardless of the approach, both groups agree that education is the key to prevention and community/familial support is essential. While the efforts of these organizations are commendable, I believe a more active approach within the African-American community is warranted. The problem is at home, in our backyard. Therefore, the solution may rest there as well.
Our culture is sending our young ladies mixed signals. Reality television and other shows that attempt to deal with the issue actually end up—seemingly and possibly inadvertently-glamorize teen pregnancy. It’s difficult for us, as parents, to drive the message home that being a teenage mother is extremely difficult and carries long-term, negative consequences with these media messages. The counter-productive effects of these shows seem to make it culturally acceptable to be a teenage mother. But as parents, we must somehow make our voices heard in the minds and hearts of our daughters and recapture their attention once more to preserve their bright futures.
With the pervasive culture we are up against, we must intervene earlier than originally suggested with our campaign to save our daughters and get to them first. Our daughters should understand early on in their adolescence what our expectations are for them. Earlier than usual, we must instill in them a value and respect for their bodies, a healthy self-esteem and help them to develop a vision for their future and stay the course. We no longer have the luxury of waiting until we’re finally comfortable to start having the ‘sex’ talks. Whether you’re advocating abstinence or safe sex, I believe beginning early is the key. Plus, starting early allows us to know if the prevention method we’ve chosen is effective or if we should make the pendulum shift and try something else. What’s at stake is too important to risk and it may just be time to throw everything, plus the “kitchen sink”, at this problem to see what works.
I believe our vigilance, as parents, will eventually help turn the tide of teen pregnancy in our community in a positive direction. And although the teen pregnancy rate isn’t nearly what it was when it peaked in the 1990s, it isn’t where it should or could be. We cannot turn our backs on a problem that has the potential to creep up from behind and pull us down. Teen pregnancy is more than prime-time entertainment – it is a real problem, especially in our community and we cannot be lackadaisical in our attitude toward it. We must remain watchful. We owe it to our daughters.
Leah Trotter D’Antonio, a native Texan who now resides in the D.C. Metro Area with her husband and two children, writes about women's issues for emPower magazine.
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