Memphis Officials Take Action After Spike in Teen Pregnancy

Filed under: In The News, Teen Culture, Education: Tweens, Education: Teens

Prompted by news reports last week that 90 girls at one Memphis high school are pregnant or have had a baby this school year, local officials are launching initiatives to stem the tide of teen pregnancy.

Officials question the number, noting that more than three dozen girls transferred to Frayser High School to take part in a program designed specifically for teen moms. Nonetheless, they admit teen pregnancy is a serious problem.

"Do we have a community-wide issue of babies having babies? The answer is yes. Unequivocally, yes," Dr. Kriner Cash, superintendent of Memphis City Schools, tells NBC's "Today."

Despite the increase in baby bumps, though, Cash insists the students are not involved in a pregnancy pact.

One teen mom at the school has a different take on why the number is so high. Some girls, she tells the "Today" show, got pregnant by accident and others because they "think it's cute."

Tennessee ranks in the top 10 for the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the country. Also, according to 2008 numbers, Frayser is in one of four ZIP codes in Memphis where at least 25 percent of babies are born to mothers age 19 and younger, WREG.com reports.

"The key is not how bad is it. The key is how many people are working on it, and by that measure I think we're off to a good start," Memphis Mayor AC Wharton says.

One new pregnancy prevention initiative is the "No Baby" awareness program, which will consist of after-school centers run by Girls, Inc. Memphis.

"The whole point of that is to teach them to say no. That's the reason this is 'No Baby.' No, we're not going to have babies. No, we're not going to have sex. Or at least we're going to be protected if we're going to do something. So, that's really our purpose, to teach these girls how to say no. They don't know how," Deborah Hester Harrison, president and chief executive officer of Girls Inc., tells WREG.com.

Psychologist Dale Atkins tells "Today" that both sexes need to be involved in raising awareness.

"We also have to educate the boys, too," she says. "It's not just about educating the girls."


To that end, Memphis has also announced a new program for teen boys with Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center, WREG.com reports. The program includes five mentoring sessions and a three-month follow up with counselors, says Meri Armour, president and chief executive officer of Le Bonheur.

The program, called "Be Proud! Be Responsible!" is funded with a $4 million, five-year federal grant that the medical center won in September, Sara Burnett, communications manager with Le Bonheur tells ParentDish. The evidence-based program for kids ages 13 to 18 has proven effective with teen boys, though the new version will also include girls, Burnett says. In addition to sex education, it will focus on developing self-esteem and healthy behaviors.

Psychiatrist Janet Taylor tells "Today" that parents should start discussing sex with their kids early on.

"This is not just about sexual activity," Taylor says. "This is about how our young girls feel about themselves."

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