Celebrate declines in teen pregnancy

Moderated by Rick Badie

Let’s celebrate good news: Fewer Georgia teens are getting pregnant. Our state’s teen pregnancy rate, along with the nation’s, has dropped significantly. One of today’s guest writers applauds the success while noting the cost of teen pregnancies to the state. A companion essay explains what’s being done to reach more Hispanics, a group whose teen birthrate has declined, but at a slower pace than other ethnic groups. Finally, read about I Am Beautiful, nonprofit devoted to the nurture of young girls and teens.

Celebrate Peach State progress

By Sarah Brown

One of the great national success stories of the past two decades has been the historic declines in teen pregnancy and childbearing. Nationally, the rates have plummeted by more than 50 percent.
Georgia’s progress has been especially impressive. Since its peak in 1991, the teen birthrate in the Peach State has dropped 56 percent. That’s impressive progress on an issue many once considered intractable.
The credit for this great good news goes to teens. The decisions they make are directly responsible for the stunning progress in reducing early pregnancy and childbearing. More teens are waiting to have sex; they are also reporting fewer sexual partners and using contraception more often.
Why have teens become more careful? Here are some major reasons:
* The continuing decrease in teen births over many years has probably contributed to a growing social norm that “teen pregnancy is not OK.” This creates a virtuous circle of sorts, where progress feeds and fuels itself.
* More communities are using effective, research-based programs that change teens’ behavior.
* Entertainment media has increased its attention to the risks and reality of teen pregnancy. Credible research suggests MTV’s popular “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” reality programs have played a role in the progress.
* There has also been substantial action on this issue at the national, state and local level, including the longstanding, effective leadership of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential.
Here’s the catch, though: Despite impressive progress, 3 in 10 U.S. girls get pregnant by age 20. Many racial/ethnic groups have higher than average rates. The U.S. still leads the developed world in teen birth rates.
The personal costs often associated with teens having children are well known and well documented. For example, just 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before age 18 earn a high school diploma.
The public costs of teen childbearing are not well known. New data released by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy show that, in Georgia, teen childbearing cost taxpayers at least $395 million in 2010 alone; for the nation overall, the costs were $9.4 billion. There were 351,013 teen births in Georgia between 1991 and 2010, costing taxpayers $10.3 billion.
It is important to add that the progress Georgia has made in reducing teen pregnancy has also resulted in real cost savings. Had Georgia’s teen birth rate not declined so steeply between 1991 and 2010, state taxpayers would have shouldered an even greater burden — about $492 million more in 2010 alone.
Fewer teen pregnancies mean higher levels of educational attainment, stronger and healthier families, a higher-quality workforce and greater savings for taxpayers, all compelling reasons to continue investing in prevention.
Celebrate “Peach Progress.” Keep working on this critical issue.

Sarah Brown is chief executive officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

By Vikki Millender-Morrow

Latinas need more sex education

Georgia is seeing unprecedented lows in the number of teenage girls becoming mothers. In just one year (2011–2012), the teen birth rate decreased by 12 percent, giving Georgia the second-largest decline in the country, according to the Center for National Health Statistics The low rates are attributed to more teens having access to sex education, teens waiting to have sex, and increased use of contraceptives among teens who are sexually active.
But the good news isn’t good enough. Teen pregnancy rates for Latina girls are considerably higher and, historically, have always been so. In Georgia, the teen pregnancy rate for Latina girls 15 to 19 is nearly 75 per 1,000, well above the state rate of 50 per 1,000. And for Latina girls 18 and 19 years old, the rate jumps to 127 per 1,000.
Given Georgia’s large and growing Latino population and the numerous negative consequences associated with teen pregnancy, the importance of concentrated efforts of culturally appropriate services and interventions cannot be stressed enough. Working to meet the tremendous unmet health, education and social needs of Latina youth and their families is a delicate and complex balance.
Poverty, insufficient sex education in communities and schools, social isolation, language obstacles, legal status and religious and cultural beliefs are often barriers to seeking health services. These are just some of the issues influencing and fueling teen pregnancy in Georgia’s Latino community. Moreover, traditionally, sex and sexuality are not discussed in Latino cultures. Parents often shy away from discussions with their teens, and individuals shy away from discussing sex with their partners.
The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential reaches 1,200 Latino girls and boys a year by working with schools with the highest Latino enrollments in Fulton, DeKalb, and Gwinnett counties. The group offers the FLASH (Family Life and Sexual Health) curriculum. FLASH addresses age-appropriate physical development, sexual health, abstinence, interpersonal relationships, body image and gender roles for 5th to 12th graders.
The Georgia Campaign works closely with school administrators, social workers and counselors to integrate the program into the academic schedule. Parents review the curriculum and give approval for their children to participate.
The problem of teen pregnancy is in every zip code. So is the solution. Teen pregnancy prevention requires intervention early and often. Given the unique social factors young Latinos face, the Georgia Campaign believes a large part of the solution lies in making age-appropriate, medically accurate information available in the schools.
Fifty-four percent of Latina teen mothers drop out of high school, compared with 34 percent of teen mothers overall. Seven in 10 Latina girls say they wish they were getting more information about abstinence and contraception. They should get it. Georgia needs more health education programs in schools.

Vikki Millender-Morrow is president and CEO of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential.

Beauty can be an issue for many

By Tina Woodard

Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror?
When I asked this question of 25 teen girls in Norcross 10 years ago, I had no idea of the ways their collective response would change my life and the lives of other girls and women forever. To my dismay, not one of the 25 girls raised her hand. Not only did those girls dislike their reflections in the mirror, they provided a litany of changes they would make to their physical appearance if they had the opportunity.
I found this disheartening and, subsequently, discussed it with my sister Zenobia, a high school principal in South Carolina. She and I concurred that low self-esteem was the culprit and a universal challenge many females face that may contribute to high-risk behaviors such as teen pregnancy, drug abuse, gang involvement and more.
Studies confirm that sexually active youth in metro Atlanta report they engaged in their first sexual activities between the ages of 12 and 14. Current research confirms that adolescent females who have higher self-esteem may be less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. So we set out to enhance the self-esteem of girls and women, focusing initially in Georgia and South Carolina. I Am BEAUTIFUL, a nonprofit, was born in 2005. We hosted our first conference for nearly 100 girls at the Centerville Community Center in Gwinnett.
We believe girls are more likely to develop low self-esteem during their vulnerable years — from adolescence to young adulthood, and from young adulthood to adult womanhood. We also believe girls and women can overcome low self-esteem by focusing on attributes such as those identified in the BEAUTIFUL acrostic: Brave, Energetic, Assertive, Unique, Tenacious, Important, Fabulous, Unequaled and Loved. The organization offers a safe, nurturing and caring environment for girls and women to develop a healthy perspective and lifestyle.
Today, our services have expanded to include the Gaining Insight & Real Life Skills Leadership Development Program, an eight-month session that offers girls 6 to 18 a holistic experience that includes issues of self-esteem, leadership, money management, exercise and nutrition, goal-setting, getting into college, etiquette, career choices, resume writing, public speaking, computer technology, healthy relationships, dating violence, self-defense, drug-free living and media awareness. We facilitate our programs in summer camps, conferences and after-school events.
It all began with the question: “Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror?” One question remains: “What will you do to help girls and women live BEAUTIFUL lives?” Visit http://www.iambeautiful.org to donate or volunteer.

Tina Woodard is co-founder and executive director of I Am BEAUTIFUL, a nonprofit.