Teen pregnancy remains a significant problem and American society but there are steps that can help teens take responsibility for their sexual activity and avoid unintended pregnancy. According to Planned Parenthood, 80% of all Americans have sexual intercourse before the age of 20. 1 out of 20 females between the ages of 16 and 20 ends up carrying an unintended pregnancy. Unintended pregnancies fuel an abortion rate that some argue is murder and all agree emotionally traumatizes all of the parties involved.
Society benefits from educated and economically productive teens. Teens struggling to handle an unintended pregnancy are less economically productive, their education suffers and their potential is inhibited. The parents of unintended pregnancies often end up on welfare. Society pays costs of welfare and healthcare for parents and children involved with unintended pregnancies. Parents that have unintended pregnancies often have multiple kids and the parents and kids are caught in a welfare cycle. Limited resources stop their progress causing their social status to remain static, resulting in limited education that produces more unintended pregnancy.
My sister Diana was 16 years old when she had her first baby and recently had her second at the age of 19. Diana is like many young girls that experience teen pregnancy. She was unaware that the likely result of unprotected sex would be unintended pregnancy. Diana and her boyfriend are working to pay costs and have learned from their mistakes, but that has interfered with their education and limited their future options. Diana’s situation, and many like hers, was avoidable.
Social barriers have slowed efforts to solve the problem of teen pregnancy. Sex education traditionally focused on both the biological aspects of sex to teach how a baby is created and encouraged abstinence to prevent unintended pregnancy. Sex education, although widely available, is often too little and too late too have much of an impact. The focus is on reproductive biology rather than on teaching adolescents the skills needed to handle a relationships and family. Teens need to learn to resist peer pressure and negotiate different situations. Although teens are using contraception much more frequently than in the past, and their preferred method condoms is widely available in stores they do not typically use them consistently, especially when they are young. Sex education should emphasize the consequences of a girl getting pregnant or how to handled relationships, peer pressure, or how to have safe sex.
Politically powerful religious denominations prohibit the use of contraceptives and oppose teaching how to use them. Social conservatives seeking abstinence oppose diluting that message or confusing teens by also teaching safe sex practices. In an instant gratification society people often choose what feels good and have sex regardless of whether they were taught to abstain. Teens that decide to have sex, without being taught how to have safe sex, are left unequipped to prevent pregnancies. The societal barriers to teaching safe sex can be partly overcome by exposing the problems these barriers cause and discussing them openly so real solutions to teen pregnancy can be implemented.
Solving the teen pregnancy problem requires a broad campaign to strengthen social norms against early sex, unsafe sex, and out of wedlock pregnancy. The educational message must be to encourage abstinence but teach how to have sex in the event teens decide to have sex. Teens should be educated about the possible consequences of early sex and contraceptives should be available so it can be done safely. The message about consequences should be delivered clearly by compelling spokespersons. Teens will often listen to peers more than instructors. Teens who have experienced unintended pregnancies can be recruited to become advocates for safe sexual behavior with their peers, families and community. Teens can also become advocates for abstaining from early sex. Advocacy would allow young people to see they can make difference in the world and recognize their voice has the potential to change sexual norms and behavior in their school and their community. Student who advocate help other teens and clarify their values in the process. After school mentoring programs can also provide educated guidance to teens and provide a friendly authority figure to hold them accountable when they make poor choices.
Teen pregnancy remains a significant problem in society and there are powerful barriers to making the changes needed to start solving the problem. More effective education that emphasizes abstinence but teach safe sex and provides the means to have it can make a difference. Teens can be taught to avoid teen pregnancy if society accepts the responsibility to equip them with the skills to succeed.