Teen pregnancy still a prominent problem

While Facebook stalking younger students from my old high school this past spring break, I made a profound discovery. Half of the teens in my hometown had babies since the time that I had graduated. Okay, so the number wasn’t really that high. In researching my town’s teen pregnancy numbers, I counted five girls who had children. Five girls among my 100 high school Facebook friends alone. Who knows how high the number actually is?

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancies, half of all pregnancies in the U. S. are unplanned—about three million each year. Three in ten women will have at least one child by the age of 20. Ga. ranked eighth in order of teen pregnancy rates with 80 pregnancies per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

Unplanned pregnancies not only create hardships for young parents, but also a financial burden to taxpayers. Data taken from a 2006 analysis of the state of Georgia by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancies found that teen childbearing costs taxpayers at least $344 million in 2004. The average annual cost associated with a child is $3,526. In terms of national statistics, teen pregnancies cost taxpayers about $1.9 billion a year.

Teen pregnancy is still a problem in the U. S., despite the numerous contraceptive methods available. TV shows like MTV’s (which starred a girl from my hometown last year) and try to depict the struggles that face couples who try to raise a child so early in their unstable lives.

And yet, in the summer of 2008 we learned of the pregnancy pact made by over a dozen girls at Gloucester High School in Mass. These young women decided to get pregnant and raise their children together. This was not a case of accidental pregnancy. This was a case of making an irrational and romantic decision.

As a college student, I found it so hard to imagine that there are still teens out there who don’t know how to practice safe sex, or, in the case of Gloucester High School, that there are teens who delude themselves into thinking that having a child at such a young age is a good idea. Both issues, however, can be resolved through constant communication and effective educational programs. Sadly, we still seem to be in an era of abstinence-only programs.

My sixth-grade year, almost 10 years ago, was the first time I was exposed to any kind of sex talk in a school setting. I remember two high school students coming to my homeroom class to talk about the reasons why we should wait until marriage to have sex. Abstinence was presented as the only option of avoiding unplanned pregnancy. No one asked how to prevent a pregnancy if one did want to engage in sexual activity. This topic seemed so taboo at the time.

It wasn’t until high school that the topic was approached in a school setting again, this time in my health class. The tone was more educational and provided options for practicing safe sex before marriage. Abstinence was still preached very loudly and clearly, but at least other options were given.

It seems so obvious that abstinence-only education is not that effective. We all know teens will still have sex, no matter how many times they are told not to. Therefore, I was shocked when my youngest sister came back from her sixth grade class a few weeks ago and told me that she was given the exact same abstinence speech that I had received.

The most effective way of preventing teen pregnancy is through honest communication. The Guttmacher Institute reported that 75 percent of young Americans will engage in sexual intercourse before they are 20. Only 15 percent of teens report staying abstinent until the age of 21. With these numbers, it is apparent that a majority of teens are not waiting until marriage to have sex, or waiting for very long. With such a large percentage of teens having sex, shouldn’t we encourage open discussion when a child is first introduced to this concept?

Sex is ingrained into every part of our culture, our commercials, our movies and our songs. Teens are exposed to sex in a variety of avenues. Shouldn’t we start the discussion earlier? Shouldn’t we warn young children of the dangers of having unprotected sex? We have the knowledge and power to prevent teen pregnancy, and we should share this information with others as openly, honestly and frequently as possible.