The good news is that fewer U.S. teens are getting pregnant. The not so good news is that the U.S. still has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western industrialized world.
A report released recently by the National Center for Health Statistics showed the teenage birth rate for American teenagers fell 9% from 2009 to 2010. The national level, 34.3 teenage births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15-19, is the lowest since 1946.
“This nation has made truly extraordinary progress in reducing both rates of teen pregnancies and teen births,” said Bill Albert, the chief program officer for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “It is not a stretch to say that this is one of the nation’s great success stories of the past decades.”
Data was gathered for the report from birth certificates. Although the data shows the decline in teenagers giving birth, it doesn’t explain why that is happening. There are several theories such as teens are abstaining more from having sex and those who are having sex are using contraception.
Brody Hamilton, an author of the report and a statistician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted, “With teens, there are a lot of factors. The economy is cited for overall downturn in the number of births. With teens, there are public policy programs directly addressing this teen pregnancy issue. It’s a mixture of things involved. We cannot tease that out with the data set that we have.”
A report released last year found that the rate of teenagers having sex decreased slightly, following an overall trend of decline in teenage sex in the last 20 years. Recent data has found increased use of contraception, such as condoms and hormonal birth control.
“These trends may have contributed to the recent birth rate declines,” wrote Hamilton and a co-author.
The rates dropped across all racial and ethnic groups, and nearly all states. In a new report just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it was noted that there are certain areas in the United States that faired better than others regarding teen pregnancy. Mississippi has the highest teen birthrate while New Hampshire has the lowest. Teen birth rates were higher in the South and Southwest and lower in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. From 2007 to 2010, the rates fell at least 8 percent in 47 states and the District of Columbia. In 16 states, declines ranged from 20 percent to 29 percent. Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia were the only states showing little decline.
Media is also given credit for making teens aware of the dangers and problems associated with pregnancy at a young age.
Movies and TV shows about teen pregnancy, such as MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” has spread awareness about the issue, Albert said. A national survey of teenagers asked whether the shows glamorized teen pregnancies and the majority reported that it had the opposite effect.
And over the years, controversy has ensued between those who advocate abstinence-only programs and supporters who want more contraception education.
“Over the past decade in particular, there has been a growing number of sex education programs that have been carefully evaluated and have shown it can change teen behavior, get them to delay sex or use contraceptives.” Albert said.
The lower teenage birth rate is a duel victory for both sides, he said, because sex education varies so much from one community to another.
“It’s a combination of less sex and more contraception. Both sides should declare victory,” Albert said. “I would resist the temptation for a magic bullet to explain the declines in teen pregnancies. I suspect it’s a rich brew of reasons why the rates are going down.”
When you strip away the scientific aspects of teen pregnancy where does that lead you? Many believe that it leads straight to parents and discussions with your child about sex. Is this something that every parent looks forward to? Probably not. But without these intimate discussions kids are going to get their information from all sorts of places- many of which won’t give them the right information. Your values also need to be passed along. Their values are still forming and they need your input.
“We are failing our children if we do not empower them to make thoughtful, well informed choices with as much guidance as we can give them.” says Dr. Sue Hubbard, Pediatrician and Co-Editor of “The Kid’s Doctor.” Dr. Sue, as she is affectionately known, says parents need to have the “birds and bees” talk with their kids early and often.
“For some parents this “talk” is easy and does not intimidate them, but for others they get sweaty palms, and feel sick to their stomachs.is also a group in between. Wherever you fall in the spectrum really doesn’t matter, but this is one of the most important discussions parents will have with their children. Many parents start discussing the differences between boys and girls as young as age 4 or 5.”
“As children enter their teen years I think the discussions should be explicit and open. If you think they cannot find any information they would like by just surfing the web, then wake up, as it is all there. I would much rather sit down with my own children and discuss every detail they would like to know and at the same type impart factual information as well as our family values.” Says Dr. Sue.
Teenage pregnancy is linked with several health and social issues such as poverty, out-of-wedlock births and education, as well as developmental issues, welfare and physical and mental health issues for the child. The decline in teenagers giving birth is indeed very good news.