Where to go from here

Published 8:05 pm Saturday, September 5, 2009

The numbers don’t lie.

The teenage pregnancy rate in the city of Suffolk is higher than the state’s average rate of teenage pregnancy.

In 2007, 173 teenage girls were pregnant in Suffolk (the city had 5,712 teenage girls living in Suffolk at the time).

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Out of those 173 pregnant teens, 53 chose to have abortions, while another 20 suffered through miscarriages.

The remaining new mothers faced an entirely different set of challenges.

Studies show that teen mothers are less likely to complete high school, much less to continue on to post-secondary education. That limits their earning potential, which in turn raises the likelihood that they will wind up on welfare, paid for by taxpayers.

Other studies show that the children of teen mothers are more likely to have psychological problems, poor reading ability and performance in school. They also are more likely to have been in contact with the criminal justice system and to become involved with drugs and alcohol.

Where does a society go from here?

Local experts say it all comes down to one thing: conversation.

“Parents need to know its OK to talk about the subject of sex,” said Cheryl Turner, program director for Lighthouse Outreach, Inc., a non-profit organization that works to give young people safe alternatives and educational tools for making life decisions. “A great part of building healthy relationships is basic knowledge. It’s having conversations. It’s talking about sex with your kids, and that’s not happening.”

According to Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation, studies show that “kids who feel they can talk with their parents about sex are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject.”

But officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data this July saying parents are not talking to their children about sex, birth control or sexually transmitted diseases.

According to the results, only 49.8 percent of 18- and 19-year-old girls and 35 percent of 18- and 19-year-old boys had ever talked with a parent about methods of birth control. More than 80 percent of boys and girls said they had received formal instruction before age 18 on how to say no to sex, and a little less than a third of teen girls and boys had received no instruction on methods of birth control.

“We need to talk about it,” Turner said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable for all of us, but just do it. Do it in detail. Don’t go for short answers. The short answers we’re using aren’t covering all of the issue. Telling children to ‘wait until you’re older’ isn’t cutting it. Give explicit answers on why. Talk about the good parts too. Say what the positive parts are, but we need to talk about it. We need to say what the consequences are and we need to say those consequences are real.”