BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Lessons Learned from “16 and Pregnant”

Posted by egehl on July 17, 2009

16_and_pregnantThis week I was channel surfing and stumbled upon a show called “16 and Pregnant” on MTV.  It documents a teenager’s life from the moment she finds out that she’s pregnant to the birth of the baby, and everything in between.  While watching the show you can’t help but think how young and inexperienced the teenager is and not ready to take on such a big responsibility so prematurely.  The show also got me thinking about teen pregnancy in general because rates in the United States have recently increased.  There are differing opinions on how to prevent teen pregnancy, but regardless it’s a social issue we must confront for the well being of young people and their babies. 

In January, 2009 a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that there were significant increases in teen pregnancy in 26 states in 2006, ending a 15 year decline According to the report “there were 435,436 births to mothers aged 15–19 years in the United States, a birth rate of 41.9 per 1,000 women in this age group.”  Regionally, the northeast has the lowest and the south and southwest have the highest teen pregnancy rates.

The rate of teen pregnancy has many immediate and long-term social and economic costs.  Teen moms are more prone to drop out of highschool, be single parents, have high rates of preterm birth and their children have a greater chance of being in foster care, victims of abuse and neglect, drop out of highschool, get incarcerated or be in poor health. Youth in under-represented groups and those in foster care have a greater likelihood of getting pregnant and chances increase that a child of a teen mom will have a child herself as a teenager. 

There are a number of factors that could be influencing the increase in pregnancies.  They include a rise in highly publicized teen pregnancies, the result of poorly performing abstinence-only programs, and a disproportionate number of pregnancies among teenagers of color. Teen pregnancy

Ending teen pregnancy gives young people a greater chance to succeed in adult life.  However there is a lot of debate about how to successfully prevent it.  During the Bush years, the federal government poured a lot of money into abstinence-only education and this sole focus failed miserably.  While encouraging teens to practice abstinence has its merits, leaving out sex education entirely is denying teens essential information they need to know to stay healthy and prevent pregnancy. 

It is important to build on programs that exhibit success and that combine different methods and theories.  These programs should include a focus on health equity by eliminating racial disparities,  youth development approaches to promote reproductive health, and build on state and local capacity to use science-based approaches to promote teen health.  Sex education should be incorporated into any prevention method and not avoided for fear that providing kids with the information will cause them to be more promiscuous.  By arming them with realistic information it will educate them about how to protect themselves through a variety of means including birth control or avoiding sex entirely.  There is no one way to fully thwart teens from having sex so prevention must include a mix of strategies and education. 

Some of these ideas are catching on at the federal level as evidenced by President Obama’s 2010 budget.  His budget allows states to combine abstinence-only with proven sex education methods through the Medicaid program, and funds sexual education programs that are evidence-based with their success in lowering the number of teen pregnancies.

I must say though after watching “16 and Pregnant” that is one way to educate teens and scare them from making an unplanned life decision and commitment they can’t change.

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6 Responses to “Lessons Learned from “16 and Pregnant””

  1. jpflaste said

    I think a good way to look at this subject is not whether you are promoting abstinence or safe-sex in sex education, but that the schools and communities are educating teens on the prevention of teen pregnancy and the prevention of sexually transimitted diseases. Whether or not you believe teens should be having sex is not going to change the fact that they are and no amount of abstinence-only classes will change that. The best education is to be aware of the consequences and be as informed as possible as to what can be done to be safe.

    Both abstinence and safe sexual practices are options in the prevention of teen pregnancy and the transfer of diseases. There are now increasingly more programs that are looking at it in this method– teaching prevention. It’s all about awareness. The less people on “16 and Pregnant” and “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” the better.

  2. Pancake said

    I think that chilbearing issues are the primary reason for the inequality in our society. Women need to join together to fight the stereotypical models of what being a women is about. You can throw money at any problem, try to legislate it away, take away the womans right to her body, but none of those solutions really address the crux of the problem. Poverty and lack of Hope seems to me to be the reason young women focus on sex as a means to get a man for their future, because a women regardless of education has always earned less than a man. This is more an issue of bringing women together to change society than educating people on how not to be pregnant.

  3. espressodog said

    What?! Teens don’t want to have sex. The only reason a teenager would want to have sex is if they learned about how to properly use a condom in school.

  4. gansie said

    oh espressodog and your amazing brand of sarcasm

  5. Joyinhome said

    An alarming and related crisis is the growing number of teens with HIV; they are transmitting it to their peers and don’t know it.

    Get over the fear people and talk to your kids! It could literally save their lives. If you are unable to talk, then let the schools do it on your behalf.


  6. Jasmine said

    okay if people seriously don’t think teens are having sex.. they must live under a rock! that they don’t do it safely is another thing.

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