Last week, the CDC shared some great news for parents. New data shows that teen birth rates have hit an all-time low, which is pretty remarkable, given that teen pregnancy rates in the 1990s had reached a crisis point. Just one generation later, our teenagers seem to be making better choices, and that’s a good thing for everyone.
The Washington Post reports that “the decline of the past decade has occurred in all regions in the country and among all races. But the most radical changes have been among Hispanic and black teens, whose birthrates have dropped nearly 50 percent since 2006.”
Despite the fact that I believe babies are blessings, having a baby before you’re fully ready — emotionally or financially — is not something most parents want for their teens. Outcomes for the kids born to teen moms can be dismal, too, with higher rates of educational difficulties, school drop-out, and even a higher risk of going to prison as they grow up. So the news that more teens are waiting until they’re older and more prepared means not only a brighter future for our teens, but also for the generation after them, too.
One good explanation of why today’s teens are waiting to have babies has to do with sex education. “The issue has been important to President Obama, who in 2010 launched a $110 million initiative to scientifically validate prevention programs that work and to replicate them throughout the country,” reports The Washington Post.
Comprehensive sex ed, where birth control options are taught alongside abstinence, are proven to do more than just reduce teen birth rates. They also have the effect of pushing back the age at which teens first have sex, and make it more likely that when they do have sex, they will use condoms and other birth control. Another added bonus? Kids who have comprehensive sex education are also more likely to have healthier romantic relationships.
Those are some seriously great outcomes!
The Internet may also play a role in declining teen birth rates. While kids shouldn’t rely upon the Internet to learn about sex, particularly pornography, they can find out where to obtain birth control and how to properly use it, which might be the best choice for them.
The Internet is also great for myth-busting, something my friends and I could’ve really used in high school, when we actually believed that you couldn’t get pregnant while having your period or if you had sex in a hot tub. Gross, I know.
Marnie Goldenberg, a health consultant and sexual health educator, points out that parents today often think teens today have more sex than we did at their age, despite the fact that the opposite is true. Parents are often alarmed by what seems like a more sexually advanced generation of kids, but in truth, they may just be making different sexual choices, like oral sex or sexting.
And while sexting or having sexy FaceTime sessions may seem scary to parents, this generation may choose to do these things in place of some riskier sexual activities. And that’s pretty cool.
“I think there is an increased knowledge of choice, and many young people are exercising that choice,” Goldenberg explains. Of course, there is still so much further to go.
There are other fascinating theories about why teen birth rates are dropping, including the influence of an MTV show called 16 and Pregnant, which shows the struggles many teenagers face when they have babies.
A study found that the show increased viewers’ interest in learning about birth control and abortion (though abortion rates have stayed the same or gone down in all but one state, and are therefore not likely to be the reason for declining teen birth rates). The report explains that “MTV drew in teens who actually were at risk of teen childbearing and conveyed to them information that led them to change their behavior, preventing them from giving birth at such a young age.”
That’s really cool, if you think about it. Almost like teens helping to educate other teens about making different choices with their own reproductive health. And as any parent of an adolescent can tell you, if kids believe they’ve found the answers themselves (as opposed to us totally uncool parents trying to force knowledge upon them), they are more likely to stay true to what they believe.
One thing parents know better than anyone is that having a baby is challenging at any age. The sleepless nights, the disruption of your entire life, and the loss of identity can really rock a person’s world. So for us, this reduction in teen birth rates feels like a personal victory. Babies are great … but we need to keep striving to give kids the information they need so they can wait to have those babies until they’re really, truly ready.