Parents, note teen birth rates

Published 9:16 pm Thursday, April 14, 2011

Suffolk’s interim health director said recently that a high rate of teen births and related phenomena are some of the main reasons the city scored in the bottom half of a recent ranking of all the localities in the state on their overall health.

In the study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Suffolk scored relatively high in clinical factors — things like the ratio of physicians to population and other factors that most individuals have no control over.

But in the health behavior category — which encompasses things like adult smoking and obesity, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted infections and the teen birth rate — Suffolk’s numbers were astoundingly abysmal.

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The study found that Suffolk’s teen birth rate was more than twice the national benchmark, which was set at the 90th percentile — meaning only 10 percent of localities were better. The study used data from 2001 to 2007.

In data from 2008, the chlamydia rate in Suffolk was more than eight times the national benchmark.

And Suffolk’s rate of low birth weight — a statistic more prevalent among teens — also was higher than the national benchmark.

It can be tempting to look at the numbers simply as digits, black ink on a white page. But each of those numbers represents a teenager whose life has been changed forever; a teen who will have limited opportunities to finish her education; a child who is born into a disadvantaged situation; a child who is more likely to become a teen parent as well; a society that pays higher and higher taxes to support teens and children on welfare.

The method to bring these statistics down isn’t an easy fix — it requires parents parenting and teens taking responsibility for their own actions.

Parents should begin the process just as soon as a child is old enough to comprehend the concept of action and consequences. Children who learn the correlation between what they do and what happens later are more prepared for responsible decisions when they are older.

When the child hits the pre-teen years, frank talks about the reproductive system, sex and its consequences are necessary. Understanding how the reproductive system works is vital to understanding how to prevent pregnancy. It may seem obvious, but the numbers of teens and even adults who are clueless about how their own body functions — or seem to hope it won’t function if they have unprotected sex — are astounding.

Parents should make it clear they expect their children to wait for sex until they are physically, mentally, financially and spiritually prepared to care for a child.

Only a true commitment by parents to educate their children about the facts of life can lower Suffolk’s astronomical rates of teen births.