Teen pregnancy is everyone's problem

| Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Teen pregnancy should be a major concern throughout the United States, which ranks tops among industrialized nations in the incidence of girls getting pregnant prior to their 20th birthday. And it should be a major concern in Fayette County, where the teen pregnancy rate is slightly worse than the statewide average.

Teen pregnancy should concern us all because of the profound impact it has on the lives of countless young women and the cumulative effect it has on society.

According to figures provided by the Family Health Council, which has marked May as National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, teenage girls who become pregnant are less likely to complete their high school education (depriving themselves of a chance at post-secondary training) and more likely to be single mothers.

Teen pregnancy is a trend that has been costly to society.

According to the Family Health Council, half of all teen mothers (and more than 75 percent of unmarried teen mothers) begin receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child. Annually, the federal government spends approximately $40 billion to help families that began with a teen birth.

Not forgotten are the children born to teenage mothers. What chance do they have at a solid family life and future personal success when their mothers are, themselves, children?

Parenthood requires maturation and an understanding of responsibility. It is an incredible task for adults who've planned on having children. That difficulty is enormous when applied to teenagers. Without question, the problem of teen pregnancy - in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and across the country - is one that must be quelled.

Solving the problem begins with education, in our schools and at home. Parents must stake a claim to their children's future by talking to their daughters (and sons, too) about the consequences of pregnancy. They must impress upon their children that becoming pregnant as a teen (and getting someone pregnant as a teen) is an irresponsible act. Our schools, through guidance offices and health education classes, need to let students know in no uncertain terms that sex is not a recreational activity that is an accepted part of growing up. That should be instilled in children (in schools and in the home) before they reach the point of being sexually active.

Abstinence is the best way to combat the teen pregnancy rates. But none of us are so naive to believe that suggestion would be well received by most teens. So at the same time, youngsters must be educated on the use and access of contraception. It is foolhardy to believe that teen pregnancy rates will decline substantially without treating contraception as a viable option to teens.

There are countless resources available to parents that will help them educate their children. The Family Health Council has offices in Uniontown (724-437-1582) that can direct parents to programs that will help them talk to children about their sexuality. Others are aimed at helping teens make healthy lifestyle choices, including pregnancy prevention programs.

Teen pregnancy changes the courses of the lives of many young women, more often than not bringing on them struggles they are not equipped to handle, and imparting the same struggles on a new generation of children. But it's also a problem that impacts our society as a whole, and we must do our utmost to combat it.

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