Teen pregnancy wasn’t always a problem. Even a hundred years ago, men and women married and started their families young: life expectancy was far shorter than it is today; school wasn’t nearly as important or widely available; and young families conformed to the established social norm. However, today in the developed world, teen pregnancy is a problem that causes a wide range of social and economic problems. The United States leads the developed world in teen pregnancies, with over twice as many per year as Great Britain or Canada, four times as many as France, and ten times as many as Japan or the Netherlands (Popenoe).
As many as 34% of all teenage girls become pregnant at least once before they are 20 years old, resulting in an astounding rate of 820,000 pregnancies a year. Nearly all of those pregnancies are out of wedlock and unwanted and so about half of those pregnancies result in abortion. Poverty and race are correlated with teen pregnancy, too, as teen mothers are more likely to be poor and remain poor if they start a family. Teen mothers are unlikely to finish high school: fewer than one-third of teen mothers receive their degree and a mere 1. 5% receive a college degree before they are 30 (“The National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy”).
Additionally, teenage pregnancies frequently result in short- and long-term health problems for both mother and child. Long-term social effects include the perpetuation of poverty and the weakening of the economic muscle of the nation; clearly something must be done to prevent teen pregnancy in the United States. Many people believe mistakenly believe that sex education and birth control distribution will solve the epidemic of teen pregnancy. The underlying message is that if the birth control methods and education fails, then at least the teen can have an abortion to prevent starting a family.
Sex education focuses on safe sex: the proper use of birth control devices including prophylactics and hormonal contraceptives. Barrier birth control devices like condoms can prevent sexually-transmitted diseases as well as pregnancies. Many schools, community and health centers distribute condoms for free to encourage teens to practice safe sex. The birth control approach to teen pregnancy is based on an assumption that teenagers are going to have sex no matter what, because sex is a natural biological instinct or because of peer pressure.
By teaching safe sex, teachers and parents feel that at least they are minimizing the chances of causing a pregnancy or spreading a sexually transmitted disease. Sex education also eliminates the need to address the complex moral and psychological issues associated with teen pregnancy: issues that are controversial politically and difficult to discuss. In spite of the rationale behind the prophylactic approach to teen pregnancy, distributing birth control freely to teenagers will fail to solve the epidemic and in fact contributes to the problem of teen pregnancy.
Telling teens that they should use birth control and then handing them birth control devices is frankly condoning and even encouraging premarital teen sex. The practice is irresponsible and irrational, because teen pregnancies are far more common now than they were in the 1960s, when birth control and sex education were not a part of the school curriculum. Moreover, sex education starts at a young age, in many cases before the young person is even interested in having sex, increasing the likelihood of misunderstanding, misinterpreting, or misapplying the information.
In many cases students do not pay attention either. Contrary to what many people believe, teenagers in the modern industrialized world do not have the mental or emotional maturity to understand the ramifications of sexual intercourse. In the old days, teens married young and their pregnancies usually occurred within wedlock and in a socially-sanctioned setting. Now, teen pregnancies lead to social and economic problems. Furthermore, all birth control devices fail occasionally and many are difficult to use properly by adults, let alone inexperienced teens.
At least half of all teen pregnancies result in abortion, which many teens begin to view as a form of backup birth control. The emphasis on birth control and sex education compound the underlying moral degeneracy that causes teen pregnancy in the United States, contributing to racial, gender, and social inequity, to poverty as to the denigration of life. Teaching abstinence is the only meaningful way to reduce teen pregnancy because teaching abstinence addresses the root causes of the problem and provides an effective long-term solution.
Abstinence is not a religious idea or a superstitious idea; abstinence is a practical solution to a serious problem. Parents and teachers should teach abstinence first, before they teach children about birth control. Teaching abstinence now won’t be easy because teens expect to have sex and because the media targeted at teens reinforces a view that having sex is normal, cool, and healthy. A message of abstinence goes against what teens see on television so many teens as well as adults may resist the idea. The idea of abstinence may be linked to religious beliefs and therefore many will construe the teaching as being biased.
It’s not biased. Teaching abstinence is a universal, practical, simple way to prevent teen pregnancies and the concurrent health, social, and economic problems that go along with it. Teaching abstinence requires a two-fold plan. First, abstinence must be taught from an early age, in school and at home. Second, abstinence teaching must be continued throughout junior and high school and reinforced through community messages and outreach. Teaching abstinence from an early age ensures that the individual will develop an emotional and cognitive framework that will last through their lives.
When taught from an early age, abstinence becomes the norm, replacing sexual promiscuity or experimentation as the norm. Teaching abstinence at a young age, from late elementary school, is inexpensive and easy, requiring no special materials or funding. The education does not need to be presented from a religious perspective, but young students should learn about the moral and social ramifications of pregnancy so that they can independently choose abstinence when they reach puberty. Abstinence is a preventative teaching that must be reinforced throughout the pre-teen and teen years.
Because they are influenced heavily by the media and by their peers, teenagers must receive continual guidance and support, and regular exposure to the message of abstinence. Therefore, abstinence education must continue into junior high and high school, if not in a formal class setting than through posters, pamphlets, and other accessible material. Parents must also participate by regularly talking to their teenage children, asking them questions about their social life, answering the teen’s questions as honestly and frankly as possible. Basically, abstinence must become a state of mind, a new social norm.
Reducing the alarming and embarrassingly high rate of American teen pregnancies requires not a more aggressive birth control campaign but a more systematic abstinence campaign. If we fail to teach abstinence soon, from an early age, and systematically, then teen pregnancies will continue to plague young American women, contributing to social and economic injustice as well as widespread health issues. All Americans can see the negative of teen pregnancy; it is a problem shared by all of us and therefore all of us are responsible for changing the underlying social norms that contribute to the problem and promoting abstinence.
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