Abstinence Education to Blame for Rise in Teen Pregnancy Rates, Report Finds

Filed under: In The News, Health & Safety: Teens, Behavior: Teens

Teen pregnancies are on the rise again. Credit: jupiterimages

After a long period of decline, teen pregnancy rates are on the rise again and experts say that abstinence-only programs, the media and absent parents are to blame.

A Jan. 26 report from the New York-based Guttmacher Institute reveals that the pregnancy rate among 15- to 19-year-olds rose three percent in 2005-2006, the first increase in more than a decade. The nonpartisan think tank looked at its own data and that of the federal government to determine that more teens are getting pregnant now than since before the 1990s.

What's causing the jump? According to Guttmacher, it was the focus on abstinence-only programs that began in the early 2000s, which were prohibited by law from including contraception information. As a result, teens' use of contraceptives declined.

The report "should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who still believes that teenagers aren't sexually active or that abstinence-only programs curb the rate of teen pregnancy," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an email interview with ParentDish. "Over the course of a decade, federal and state governments have spent $1.5 billion on abstinence-only programs. It is a tragedy that we are witnessing an increase in the number of teens who are getting pregnant, especially when we know what works -- medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education that gives young people the tools to make responsible decisions about their health."

The best tool in a parent's arsenal, she adds, is communication. "Studies show that the best way to prevent teen pregnancy is to provide teens with honest, accurate information."

Tricia Goyer is an author and speaker who works with teen moms on a weekly basis, and she knows of what she speaks. She became pregnant with her eldest son, Cory, now 20, when she was a high-school senior.
Goyer, author of "Life Interrupted: The Scoop on Being a Young Mom," says there are two other key factors in play when it comes to the increase in teen pregnancy: Absent parents and the media.

"Parents today live busy lives," she says. "They aren't taking the time to build close-knit relationships with their kids. Many, many young women are also growing up without fathers. I believe this leaves a hole in the hearts of teens. They are yearning for love that they don't have at home and look for it in each other."

Goyer points out that glamorizing teen pregnancy on TV and in the movies only serves to teach young women -- and men -- that engaging in sexual activity has very few real consequences.

"There are very few television shows or movies that show the reality," she says. " Most movies or television shows have teens sleeping together with no consequences. Not only that, pregnancy is just one issue. Even more teens are getting STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases). Even more than that have to deal with pain, rejection and an aching heart."

Both Richards and Goyer urge parents to recognize the few "teachable moments" that the media's portrayal of teen pregnancy can offer. Both women say that movies like Lifetime TV's recent airing of "The Pregnancy Pact," based on the 17 Gloucester High School girls who set out to get pregnant, give families the opportunity to bring teen sexuality out into the open.

Even before the Guttmacher report was issued this week, teen pregnancy appeared to be creeping its way back into the national consciousness: A Milwaukee public service campaign recently bombarded teens with teasers for what looks like a horror movie called "2028" but is really a one-minute PSA about life as a teen mom.



The short film has all the production values of a slick thriller flick, but ends with a far scarier take on reality: "
Get pregnant as a teen and the next 18 years could be the hardest years of your life."

But Planned Parenthood's Richards knows first-hand just how hard it is to open the communication gateways between parent and teen, but she urges families to use opportunities like the Milwaukee PSA campaign to do so.

"Look, as a mom I know it's difficult to talk with your kids about sex," she says. "It would be wonderful if there was a magic bullet. I would first say to other parents to take every opportunity to talk about relationships and sexual health. I would say to teens, talk with your parents or another trusted adult. It's so important that anyone who is considering becoming sexually active, of any age, has all the information needed to make responsible decisions."

Related: Talking with Children About Sex

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.