More teenagers giving birth! Ack! Run around like a chicken with your head cut off! Ack!

So the liberal blog-o-sphere is simply agog with the CDC announcement that the adolescent birth rate has risen for the first time in fourteen years (it had been steadily falling). Bush’s abstinence-only “sex education” policy has been taken to the cleaners with this announcement. Here’s a quote from the CDC announcement that I think sums everything up nicely:

The report shows that between 2005 and 2006, the birth rate for teenagers aged 15 – 19 rose 3 percent, from 40.5 live births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2005 to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. This follows a 14-year downward trend in which the teen birth rate fell by 34 percent from its all-time peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991.

However, if you read deeper into the announcement, you find (as the Reverend Debra Haffner points out), that births rose among all women – not just teenagers. In fact, the total fertility rate is at the highest point is 1971, and is above replacement rate for the first time since then. The other serious numbers that come out of this announcement is that the Cesarean delivery rate rose again – indicating a 50% increase over the last 10 years. This is coupled with a rise in preterm births and a rise in low birth-weight. These are all much more alarming statistics than a very slight increase in the adolescent birth rate.

Now, I am not one to miss an opportunity to slam abstinence-only “sex education.” In general, I am just color-me-pink when big-time statistics like this come out indicating that the 1990’s had better sex education than the 2000’s. But I don’t agree that these numbers are enough to do that. The rise actually just takes us back to the 2004 adolescent birth rate (and is still lower than the 2003 adolescent birth rate). Many more questions need to be asked here: Did the abortion rate change? How many of these pregnancies were planned? (Yes, teenagers do plan pregnancies, and the biggest increase was among 18 – 19 year olds, who are the most likely teenagers to plan a pregnancy.) Did condom or hormonal birth control usage change among teenagers between 2004 and 2005? What about access for teenagers to abortion, condoms, or hormonal birth control?

I am also suspicious of people who rail against teenage births in general. Teenage parents aren’t all bad, and I’m tired of them being portrayed that way. The real issue for me is unplanned pregnancies, and yes, most teenage pregnancies are unplanned. The real issue is lack of real information, lack of access to reproductive health care, lack of self-efficacy around sexuality, and the highly overblown image of sex that prevails in our culture. None of these failures are exclusively the result of abstinence-only “sex education” (although it certainly hasn’t helped).

All of us – even those who support comprehensive sex education – need to acknowledge the role that we play, every day, in our society’s sex education. Do we talk openly and appropriately with people of all ages about sex and sexuality? Are you comfortable bringing up the topic of birth control when a young person you know gets into a serious relationship? Are you comfortable providing that birth control?

This is an area where you are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Where do you stand?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.

1 Comment

  1. I guess I stand in middle. I try to be part of the solution – consistent and clear with my communication and accurate and open with information – but I know that I can tongue tied and awkward.

    On the broader topic of birth rates – the slight single year bump in teen pregnancy rates doesn’t seem like a major deal. Trends are more important than the data for any one year.

    But for the most part, I do think teenagers are generally not ready to have children. Yes, there are exceptions, but as a general rule fewer teen births are better.

    The overall indicators were pretty much all bad in my eyes. Overall higher birth rates – not good. More C-Section – not good. More preemies – not good.

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