Good news on teen pregnancies

Years ago, I remember walking into the den while my daughter was watching the reality TV show “16 and Pregnant.” I was initially shocked. MTV was pretty much a “no-no” in my house, and she was still pretty young to be watching it, in my opinion.

Instead of freaking out, I decided to watch an episode with her and let it launch a conversation that I’ve tried to keep open since then. Trust me, the episode was wrought with all kinds of teen drama, giving us plenty of things to talk about.

At that time, I would have never believed that reality TV shows like this one would be credited, in part, for a nationwide drop in teen pregnancy. In 2014, a study estimated that teen births dropped 6 percent in the 18 months following the show’s release.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the news that teen pregnancy is on the decline in the nation. The same holds true here in Henderson County, and we at the Children & Family Resource Center couldn’t be more relieved.

Our work with teen parents has long had us aware of the need for better access to information for teenagers and for support for parents to help them gain knowledge and confidence to talk to their teens about sex.

Obviously, the reason for the decline in teen pregnancy is about much more than reality TV shows. A 2014 study by the Guttmacher Policy Review identifies two reasons that are at the opposite sides of the arguments about what to do about sex education. Those reasons:

• Fewer teens are having sex. Over the past two decades, there has been a shift in social norms that encourages teens to remain abstinent or delay sex.

• Today’s teenagers have better access to information about sex, and teens who decide to have sex have better access to contraception and are using it more often than in the past.

The newly released numbers show that birthrates among females ages 15-19 have declined 38.5 percent nationwide from 2006-2007 to 2013-2014. The largest drops have occurred among Hispanic (47.8 percent) and black (40.3 percent) teens.

North Carolina is seeing a 43.3 percent drop in birthrates for females ages 15-19, and here locally we’ve also seen numbers drop significantly with a 28.3 percent decline from 2013 to 2014.

Even though we are celebrating a decline in teen pregnancy nationwide, CDC Director Tom Frieden is correct in stating, “The reality is, too many American teens are still having babies.”

Obviously, teen parents need a lot of support. The odds are against them, and the obstacles can seem insurmountable. The statistics say that teen parents are less likely to complete high school, much less go to college. They are more likely to become pregnant again while still a teenager (22.3 percent of teen pregnancies in North Carolina last year were repeat teen pregnancies). We also know that children of teen parents are also at greater risks for health complications, academic challenges and social problems.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Over the past 15 years, we have proudly helped hundreds of teen parents successfully beat the statistics and graduate from high school, go to college, land jobs and go on to lead successful lives. Teens enrolled in the Children & Family Resource Center’s Adolescent Parenting Program receive individualized, targeted support aimed toward the goal of helping them graduate from high school and make choices to delay a second pregnancy.

We work to help them overcome life’s obstacles, develop solid parenting skills and knowledge of child development, and transition into adulthood by furthering their education and job training.

A trend we’ve noticed locally is the increasing involvement of teen dads. Through the years, I’ve often been asked, “What about the teen dads? What happens to them?” Teen fathers have always been welcome to participate in our program, but historically they have been hard to keep engaged. This year, we are about to enroll our fifth teen father in the program.

I recently read a great quote from a teen mom that appeared in a 2004 article in Parents Magazine about teen parenting. The 15-year-old mother said, “I’d like the world to know that teenage moms can be every bit as caring, loving and perfect or imperfect as any other mother. We’re parents, too, and we’re just like other parents — only a little bit younger and with a little bit more to learn.”

It is our privilege to work with parents to help them improve the lives of their children, no matter their age or circumstance. For more information about our programs, please visit our website, www.childrenandfamily.org, or contact us at 698-0674.

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center.

This article originally appeared on here.

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