Teen pregnancy and births in the United States have reached historic lows, however, Tennessee continues to be among one of the top rated states for most births among females between the ages of 15-19.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, roughly one in four girls will become pregnant at least once before the age of 20 and roughly one in five teen mothers will have a second child during her teen years. Henry County has one of the highest rates for teen pregnancy in the state of Tennessee, which means the school board is required by the state to implement a family life education program.
Often times, teenage girls do not fully understand the responsibilities that come along with becoming a mother and the sacrifices that have to be made to give the child the best care he or she needs and deserves. The perception that many young girls and boys have, thanks to the prevalence of today’s society, is that you’re not cool unless you’re having sex, which is so very far from the truth and sad to even think about.
We live in a bashful society when it comes to discussing sex and the consequences of sex with children and teens. Not talking about sex is not going to prevent children and teens from having it, and not talking about it will not help solve the problem of teen pregnancy. Believe it or not, many young girls do not know that they can get pregnant the first time they have sex. As a community, from parents and teachers to health professionals, mentors and church groups, we must educate our children and teens about healthy sexual responsibility to help reduce Henry County’s teen pregnancy rates.
Let’s Talk Month is a national public education campaign to help parents and their children navigate a path to a healthy life where young people can make healthy and responsible decisions regarding sex that is coordinated every October by an organization known as Advocates for Youth. This organization reports that parents are the first and most important sexual educators in their children’s lives. In a 2012 survey, almost nine in 10 teens (87 percent) said that it would be much easier to postpone sexual activity and avoid pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents.
Not all parents are comfortable with or have the resources to discuss sexual health with their children or fear they will not say the right thing. This is where Let’s Talk Month is a great resource because it provides parents with the resources to have a healthy, informative conversation with their children about sexuality. Sexuality education is a process, never just a one time talk. For more information and resources related to Let’s Talk Month, go to www.advocatesforyouth.org/lets-talk-month.
Teen pregnancy and parenting are significant contributors to high school drop-out rates among teen girls. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that nationally, only about half of all teen mothers earn a high school diploma by the age of 22; and among those who have a child before the age of 18, about 40 percent finish high school and less than 2 percent finish college by the age of 30. The economic consequences of dropping out of school often contribute to the perpetual cycle of economic hardship and poverty that spans generations.
The Tennessee Department of Health suggest the following activities to help prevent and reduce teen pregnancy:
• Increase health education.
• More involvement in school and recreational activities or after school programs.
• Increase family and community support.
• Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
The Tennessee Department of Health offers resources to help educate and prevent unplanned adolescent pregnancies. One of these resources is the Tennessee Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (TAPPP). The mission of TAPPP is “to prevent unplanned adolescent pregnancies through a comprehensive, community wide, collaborative effort that promotes abstinence, self-respect, constructive life options and responsible decision making about sexuality, healthy relationships and the future.”
Another resource is the Abstinence Education Program, which is a federally funded program that focuses on abstinence education by providing comprehensive, evidence-based and medically accurate programs to middle school children, 10-14 year olds and expanding up to age 17. The projects target high risk youth from community-based organizations, faith-based institutions, rural and geographically under-served areas and disadvantaged ethnic and minority populations.
There is also the Teen Pregnancy Information Clearinghouse, which offers information on statewide programs and national reports regarding adolescent pregnancy. The Clearinghouse is available as a guide for healthcare providers, professionals, teenagers, families and members of the community. The Teen Pregnancy Information Clearinghouse toll-free line can be reached at 877-461-8277.
Please remember children and teens are going to be exposed to sex and sexuality whether we as adults choose to talk to them about it or not. Teaching sexual health in school does not replace it being taught at home. Research indicates that parent-child communication about sexuality can have a positive influence on teen sexual behavior.
For questions or comments, please contact your child’s school nurse or call 644-3916.
KAYLA GLOVER is a registered nurse, the Henry County School System’s family and community coordinator and nurse at Lakewood School. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.