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As teen pregnancies rise, so do questions

Published 10:57am Thursday, February 4, 2010

By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star

At Niles High School, Margaret Clayborne of Lakeland HealthCare teaches Postponing Sexual Involvement, an “abstinence-based curriculum” where students who claim not to be sexually active are trained in abstinence education. Those students then go into Ring Lardner Middle School in order to teach younger students the importance of being smart when it comes to having and not having sex.
Clayborne said when it comes to preparing her peer educators she really tries to “encourage them to talk about the media and how the media plays a part in sexual connotation and about peer pressure.

“My team leaders that present the program say they (students) are very grateful to have it,” she said. “They’ve got their ears open and they’re very interested in what the kids have to say.”

As more concerned parents, educators and health officials wonder what’s behind the rise in teenage pregnancy, Clayborne calls it the “hundred million-dollar question.”

Almost as quickly as the news spread last week that a new report indicated a rise in teen pregnancies for the first time in 10 years, came concern and criticism of abstinence only education across the nation.

Some of the concern lay in the fact that while numbers are up – the report conducted by the Guttmacher Institute releasing its findings based on data compiled through 2006 – there’s little way to know for sure what is driving the increase in teen pregnancies.

“In 2005 the U.S. teenage pregnancy rate reached its lowest point in more than 30 years, down 41 percent since its peak in 1990, ” the report states. “However, in 2006, the rate increased for the first time in more than a decade, rising 3 percent.”

Some are blaming the nation’s method of abstinence education or the lack thereof. Some say certain abstinence only programs work better than others, a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reportedly claims it finds that abstinence programs are more effective when they deviate from heavy handed moralistic themes.

In Berrien County, the Berrien County Health Department reports no drastic changes in its findings in a three-year period ending in 2007, around the same time period of the Guttmacher report. Those findings, however, consist of teenage births and not necessarily teen pregnancies.

“We haven’t seen a change here in Berrien County,” Nicki Britten, epidemiologist for the health department, said Tuesday. “It could just be an increase in sexual activity among teens or it could be a decrease in contraceptive use from teens.”

The percentage of teen births in the county for 2005 was 12.9 percent, 12.5 percent in 2006 and 12.6 percent in 2007.

“We’re a little bit high compared to some other places in the state,” Britten said.

Clayborne thinks there are multiple factors at play.

“I think it’s because it’s still the media and maybe a lack of parenting,” she said.

Clayborne added there are many young mothers with their children in school already, who might not know what they need to do to educate their children in how the decisions they make regarding their sexual activity today could affect their futures tomorrow.

“A lot of parents feel uncomfortable,” she said. “A lot of parents are young. In some communities, in some cultures it’s almost like the norm. It’s no big deal, everybody has a baby, everybody gets pregnant.”

Britten seems to agree that teenagers need to understand how the choices they make today will impact their future.

Though more up to date data isn’t available, Britten said at one time family planning services were booked up at the health department and “now we’re seeing lots of openings.”

The first step in slowing the rate of teenage pregnancy may go back to the old-fashioned method of good communication.

“We encourage if the kids have questions, concerns to take those down,” Clayborne said of her peer educators. “If they can’t answer the question,” she said, she will.

As for parents, Clayborne added, “I think they need to” talk with their kids. “They really need to talk and to see where the kid is at.”

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