Education & teen pregnancy

Posted Sunday, November 14th, 2010 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Law and Culture, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to General Public

Anyone who practices family law–and anyone who simply observes our culture–sees the overwhelming correlation between human misery and folks having children they are not emotionally or financially capable of parenting.  Reducing teen pregnancy would ameliorate a range of social problems. Two recent articles in our local newspaper, the Charleston Post & Courier, highlight the issues surrounding teenage pregnancy.

The first is from October 28, 2010, “School-based sex ed program outrages mother of teen girl who received birth control.” It discusses a mother’s reaction to learning her fourteen year old daughter was taken from the Burke High School campus by an employee of the Carolina Empowerment Group, a nonprofit community organization, to a clinic where she was provided birth control.  The mother was outraged.  Part of the outrage was learning her daughter had been provided birth control without her knowledge (state law permits health services to be provided to minors of any age without parental consent when it’s deemed necessary).  Part of her outrage was that her daughter was taken off campus to obtain the birth control.  The news story notes that there is not a clinic in downtown Charleston (where Burke High School is located) for teenagers to obtain birth control.

I commented on this news story on the Post & Courier’s web site the day it came out, noting:

It’s a sad commentary on our culture’s focus when a 14 year old girl obtaining birth control without her mother’s knowledge is a local news story but a 15 year old girl giving birth is too common an occurrence to make the news.

Today another article in the Post & Courier, “Clinic offers help for teens,” contains a chart noting the number of pregnancies at each Charleston County high school the past three years. A perusal of the chart shows a remarkably strong correlation between poorly performing schools and high rates of teen pregnancy.  Burke High (the school the teenager in the first news story attended) and its Middle School had 22, 31 and 27 pregnancies the past three years.  In contrast, Academic Magnet, the highest achieving high school in the county, had no pregnancies the past three years.  School of the Arts, the second highest achieving high school in the county, and the high school my oldest child attends, had one pregnancy the past three years.

The explanation for the differing pregnancy rates at these high schools cannot be that teenagers at high performing schools don’t have sex while those at lower performing schools do (at least not at the rate that would explain this disparity).  There are schools averaging over 20 pregnancies a year and others averaging three or fewer.  The obvious explanation is that most children attending high performing schools tend to care enough about their future to avoid behaviors that would derail that future and that some children attending lower performing schools don’t care as much.  I would love to see someone chart the correlation between these teen pregnancy rates and graduation rates or rates of attending seniors who begin college within two years.  From the little I know about the various schools on the chart, I suspect there would be an extremely high correlation.

As a social liberal, I don’t have as big an issue with premarital sex as many of my peer and I support allowing sexually active teenagers access to reliable birth control.  However, I also support encouraging high school students to remain abstinent.  Yet hoping all teenagers will be abstinent in high school, and making that our sole method of reducing teen pregnancy, is not an effective strategy.  Nor is access to reliable birth control sufficient.  The best way to reduce teen pregnancy is to convince teenagers that they have a hopeful future upon graduation.

Yes, teach high school students the benefits of abstinence.  Because we know that they won’t all remain abstinent, teach them about birth control.  But we also need to convince them they have bright futures that would be derailed by early pregnancy.  Teenagers, however, are not stupid, and their hypocrisy antenna are highly attuned.  We cannot convince them they have a future if the education we provide them is second rate (or worse).  Given the data in today’s Post & Courier story, I suspect that providing every child a first rate education that left them hopeful for their futures would do more to reduce teenage pregnancy than any sex education we could provide.  Too bad we lack the political will to do this.

3 thoughts on Education & teen pregnancy

  1. Great post greg!

    What’s interesting is that teen pregnancy rates is lowest in countries that have very permissive views towards teen sexuality, and very open access to birth control and contraceptive education. I once watched a documentary where teens on the street in The Netherlands were randomly asked if they had a condom on them, and over 80% of males had one. The same poll in America found < 10% of males carrying condoms. The Netherlanders were asked if carrying a condom meant they were expecting to have sex that day, and the fairly consistent response was that "no, but one needs to be prepared!"

    IMHO, the biggest reason this country has a teen pregnancy problem is the puritan conservative views that permeate large parts of the country, views that consistently fail to accept the fact of our genetic programming to have sex shortly after puberty. Everything in our bodies is trying hard to get us to either father a child or get pregnant as soon as puberty hits. This is pure nature, and there is no need to put a value judgement on it. Abstinence is fine, but society has to stop putting a negative value judgement on the feelings that all young people have to have sex and/or masturbate. Once the taboo is removed, young people can be far more free to make responsible choices without feeling like they are tasting forbidden fruit.

  2. California observer says:

    America’s schizo views on sexuality were best summed up by a country singer who said his Texas upbringing taught him that “sex is so dirty and nasty you should save it for someone you love.”

    Not sure a well-reasoned post like this will help much, though. I’ve yet to meet an anti-abortion, pro-abstinence type with any interest in outcomes measurement, correlations, or studies; such moralistic opinions survive much better on a fact-free diet.

  3. Sidney says:

    As a current law student I was looking into possibly doing my legal graduation paper on teen pregnancy issues and the law. I came across your blog here and I was impressed by it. I very much agree with your quote to the Post and Courier, it is very sad that teen pregnancy has become non-newsworthy and frequent and yet keeping teens from obtaining birth control from places like Planned Parenthood has become so newsworthy that even Congress has become polarized about the issue. Thank you for your views, it was a refreshing read.

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