Lowest Rates Since 1946
Teen birth rates by age, race, and Hispanic origin were the lowest on record in 2010 and the lowest they’ve been since 1946, the National Center for Health Statistics said in a new report. The number of babies born to teenagers declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010 (34.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19) and 44 percent from 1991 through 2010. Black and White teenagers saw identical declines of 9 percent, while American Indians, Alaska Natives, Hispanics, Asians, and Pacific Islanders saw a 12-13 percent decline.
“Rates tended to be highest in the South and Southwest and lowest in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, a pattern that has persisted for many years,” the report said. “Some of the variation across states reflects variation in population composition within states by race and Hispanic origin.”
Contraception and Sex Education Work
Dr. John Santelli, a professor of clinical population and family health at Columbia University told The New York Times Well blog that increased contraception usage has made the biggest difference. “In the ’90s, it was the big increase in condom use; most recently it looks like it’s an increase in the use of oral contraceptives, the patch and perhaps even the IUD.”
“There was a major change in public messaging about teenage sexual activity and condom use,” Rebecca A. Maynard, a professor of education and social policy at the University of Pennsylvania told The Times. “The former was fueled by the abstinence education advocates and the latter by public health concerns about the high rate of sexually transmitted disease among teens.”
Teen STD Rates Still at ‘Historic’ High
Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, told Baptist Press the new numbers reflect a variety of factors including “family structure, parental expectations, socio-economics and type of sex education.” She also said sexually transmitted disease rates remain “at historic highs.”
“Even though the STD rate among teenagers is at an all-time high, the NAEA found a 1:24 disparity in federal funding of abstinence education compared to contraceptive-centered programs. From 2007 to 2012, the funding gap between the two is more than $4.2 billion — $675.9 million to $4.9 billion. The most recent budget proposal by President Obama recommends only 4 percent of sex education dollars be spent on abstinence-based programs,” Baptist Press reported.
American Teens Have Twice as Many Babies
Additionally, U.S. teens still have twice as many babies as 20 other industrialized nations, The Washington Post WonkBlog reported. The reasons cited are more economic inequality in the United States, lower contraceptive usage among American teens, and higher abortion rates abroad.
Teen pregnancy costs an estimated $10.9 billion annually and only 50 percent of teen moms will earn a high school diploma by age 22, CBS News’ HealthPop reported.
“We are in a woeful shape,” television’s Dr. Drew Pinsky told CBS News’ HealthPop. “The strange thing about the entirety of the sexual revolution is that no one even thought this sexual revolution thing hoisted by adults was raining down on teenagers and young adults. It’s had dire, dire consequences.”
What do you think?
Should sex education for teens be comprehensive or abstinence only?
The Cultural Divide
“America is coming apart,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray wrote at The Wall Street Journal last week. The problem is one of “cultural inequality,” Murray said, and it reveals itself in “a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America” and in “a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”
Murray roots working class decline, not in macro-economic factors like the loss of manufacturing jobs, but in social policy developed during the 1960s that he says “made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of.”
His solution to this alleged cultural divide is the affirmation of core “civic virtues” like marriage, industriousness, and religiosity. Not only should they be advanced by the working class folks who adhere to them, but he says, “Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms.”
That ought to go over well with the young’uns.
Restoring American Dynamism
Fellow conservative David Brooks took a different approach to the problems faced by a hypothetical economically disadvantaged woman in his January 23 column at The New York Times. Brooks advocated “a two-pronged approach” to “restoring American dynamism” that includes “more economic freedom combined with more social structure; more competition combined with more support.” This translates into a simpler tax code, corporate tax cuts, streamlined regulations, flexible immigration policy, and a long-term balanced budget, as well as a host of measures that support education and more child care options for families.
At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher struck an even more moderate tone, rebuking Newt Gingrich’s “food stamp president” remark by reminding readers that SNAP benefits have doubled since 2008 because “the country suffered its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression!” Dreher contrasted SNAP spending with the estimated $107 billion bill that the Pentagon will present this year to U.S. taxpayers for what he regards as a futile war in Afghanistan.
Thank God for comedians …
Smoking Out the Satirical in Progressive Elitism
At The Weekly Standard, humor writer P.J. O’Rourke charged progressives with hating poor people. He was riffing on Maine’s new ban on smoking in all public housing, but he applied the critique WIDELY. Here’s a single satirical sentence that Murray might consider when pondering cultural divisions:
“Smoking kills smokers, which is about what they deserve for engaging in such lowbrow, wrong-headed, retarded, vulgarian activity, except they get sick first and that drives up the cost of a single-payer national health care system, plus their second-hand smoke is worse yet because it is a, yuck, inhalation hand-me-down from uncouth people who probably haven’t flossed, and it kills progressive elites who don’t even know anyone who smokes while also releasing greenhouse gases and stinking up the cheery curtains that elites hang in public housing group activity areas to brighten the lives of the underprivileged who are confined to concrete tower blocks with six-by-eight-foot living rooms, seven-foot ceilings, plexiglass windows, and sheet-metal doors with a dozen locks on them.”
Linament Salesmen and Other Ills
Speaking of humor, in a new interview with The Root, comedy legend Bill Cosby took on those who criticize him for “airing dirty laundry” about the Black community when he denounces its social dysfunctions, calling them “liniment salesmen.” He also expressed his concerns about teen pregnancy, Black-on-Black crime, and illiteracy. “I’m telling you that I’m worried and very, very concerned today when a mother, speaking about the son being in jail, says, ‘I’m happy. He’s in a safe place.’ You cannot take that casually,” Cosby warned, and that’s not funny at all.
Winfrey the Non-Conformist Anomaly
Leave it to media mogul Oprah Winfrey to defy them all. In an interview with India’s NDTV, Winfrey said that she and Stedman Graham would have been divorced by now if they had gotten married. “I really am my own woman and I don’t really conform very well to other people ideas about who and what I should be and being married calls for some conformity,” said Winfrey. But then, these guys would probably say she’s the exception that proves the rule.
What do you think?
Is there a cultural divide between a new upper class and a new lower class. If so, who’s to blame and what, if anything, is to be done about it?
"Jersey Shore" t-shirts for sale in Seaside Heights, New Jersey
Here at the Jersey Shore, we’re none too fond of the way MTV’s reality show “Jersey Shore” portrays our generally bucolic region as a mecca for teenage and young adult hedonism. Now, along comes the Parents Television Council (PTC) with a report that says its portrayals of females, along with those on the network’s other youth-oriented reality shows, are overwhelmingly negative.
PTC found that “only 21.4 percent of language about or directed at females was positive” and only “24 percent of what females said about themselves was positive across all shows” (“Jersey Shore,” “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom 2,” “The Real World“). Additionally, conversations about sex on these shows rarely included talk of virginity (0.2%), contraceptives (1.4%) and STDs (2%).
On one level, this news is unsurprising. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the network and from this genre of television. But two of the shows, “Teen Mom 2” and “ and “16 and Pregnant” have been conditionally lauded by feminists like Slate editor Jessica Grose.
In a 2010 blog post, Grose said, “There is actually data to support the notion that a dramatic, narrative show like ‘16 and Pregnant’ could make adolescent girls more likely to use contraception,” and in a June 2011 post, she quoted data that said watching these shows makes people more likely to support legal abortion.
“For all the pro-choicers out there who are still complaining that the fecund high schoolers of ‘16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom’ glamorize teen pregnancy—you should stop complaining. The elevation of the stars of these shows might help abortion remain legal for future generations,” Grose concluded, in what sounded to me like a slap in the face to both teen moms and their children.
The Jersey Shore "As Seen on MTV"
The popularity of reality television among young viewers has “generated greater interest among researchers and critics” with both groups “working to comprehend viewer motivations for watching as well as the impact of a genre rooted in stereotypical representations of gender and class, simplistic portrayals of social problems, and a disproportionate appeal to young audiences,” PTC’s report said.
Karen Dill, Director of the Media Psychology Doctoral Program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, is quoted as saying the stories media tells “make up much of our shared cultural ideals and therefore shape how boys and girls [feel] about themselves and their peers.”
In her 2010 post, Grose wisely noted the mixed message MTV communicates with its reality TV lineup.
“While MTV aims to send a good message with earnest shows about teen motherhood, the message gets muddled when it is in the context of the network’s other reality programming. Commercials for the current season of ’16’s’ sister show, ‘Teen Mom,’ ran around the same time as the reality juggernaut ‘Jersey Shore,’ which depicted consequence-free carousing. Why, a teenager may wonder, is [’16 and Pregnant’] Jenelle’s beach-bunny act so terrible when it looks like Snooki has so much fun behaving in a similar manner?”
Why indeed? And why, I wonder, do some feminists offer even conditional support for shows that portray young women and young mothers in such a negative light?
What do you think?
Is there anything redemptive to be found amidst MTV’s mixed messages or is its reality TV line-up pure trash?
When it comes to sexual issues, our teens are depending on us for more than just the standard “how-to / don’t-do” talk. Parents, churches, and youth leaders must go deeper — emotionally and spiritually. PART 3 IN A SPECIAL SERIES.
Earlier this year, in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we looked at urban teenagers’ attitudes about sex, and their behaviors and practices that reflect those attitudes. Part 2 ended with a question about how parents and churches can fill the gap in teens’ knowledge about sexual health issues and thereby prompt a change in their behavior. We now tackle that tricky subject.
There’s good news and bad news about what inner-city teens seem to know about sex. The good news is that parents and church leaders rank very high on their list of people who can influence what they know and think about sexual issues. The bad news is that neither parents nor churches are doing a particularly good job of cashing in on their credibility currency. Here are some principles to consider as we all ponder how to help our teenagers recover lost ground and gain solid footing in areas of sexuality.
Principle 1: Changed Behavior is the Result of a Changed Mind. With so many programs, theories, and strategies jostling for ideological supremacy when it comes to reducing teen pregnancy and making a dent in teens’ sexual risk-taking, people of faith sometimes forget The Source of all wisdom — the Bible. Our source tells us that we experience transformation as a result of a renewed mind. Therefore, it stands to reason that we can expect youth to behave differently when they think differently about love, sex, marriage, intimacy, and relationships. Some would object, “We can’t just beat kids over the head with the Bible.” True in most cases, but that doesn’t mean parents, pastors, youth ministers, and others can’t or shouldn’t explain and demonstrate biblical principles in an authentic, consistent way, showing clear relevance between those principles and their everyday lives. The 2008 Faith-Based Urban Youth Workers Focus Group study (YWS) results support this reality. Youth workers surveyed indicated:
The only reason given for not doing it [having sex] is that the Word says it. The real reason is not talked about. No one explains that God has created you as a sexual being, etc. Sex is about what is in your heart.
So how would this work on the streets with the kids? It means rather than just saying “The Bible says don’t have sex unless you’re married,” maybe we should talk about the fact that they have been created as a unique person with gifts, talents, and abilities and that their sexuality is just one part — albeit an important one — of who they are. Giving teens a context for their urges and passions can help them see a bigger picture that encompasses more than their next hook up.
An important point to keep in mind here is that knowledge is not the same as a changed mind. Simply slogging through facts and figures about STDs and showing a 17-year-old boy how to use a condom does not translate into renewed thinking. When a teenage girl decides she doesn’t want to be alone with her boyfriend in his apartment any more, that’s a mind shift that results from her internalizing the principle that she should manage her relationship to avoid situations that will put undue pressure on her ability to resist a sexual advance. In the faith community, that’s known as not making provision for the flesh (see Romans 13:11-14). On the streets, that’s called handling your business.
Principle 2: Go After the Root, Not Just the Fruit.
“[P]rograms should address and enhance self-esteem. ‘If your self-esteem is non-existent, you’ll do lots of things because you don’t think you’re worth anything. Until you grasp your worth, you get pregnant to fill that gap.”
“In general,…funding for programs should be focused on helping young people with the range of challenges they face. …[C]urrent programs are ‘not getting to the core of the problem.'”
The YWS participants quoted above understand that trite messages don’t cut it with today’s technologically savvy, yet emotionally wounded urban teens. And thoughtful educators are joining parents and other faith-based leaders who know that the best sexual health education is whole-person education. It’s no longer sufficient to only stress teaching teens to focus on risk-reduction techniques. Clearly that has not worked. One of two Black teenage girls having an STD is living proof of that. Risk reduction is giving way to risk avoidance, reflecting a much-needed concern for young people’s emotional and spiritual selves in addition to their physical health. So parents and the church must switch from managing consequences to dealing with root issues. But this approach requires some housecleaning for adults as well.
Many parents themselves are more afraid of their daughter getting pregnant than they are of her devaluing herself and growing up insecure and emotionally damaged. Let’s face it — we’re much more likely to hear, “Don’t come home with no babies” than we are to hear, “Don’t come home heartbroken and with intimacy issues.” Of course, neither outcome is desirable, but why don’t we express as much concern for our teens’ emotional wellbeing as we do for pregnancy and disease?
The church suffers from the same mindset. We ask, “Why are so many girls in youth group getting pregnant?” rather than, “Why are so many of our teenagers driven by lust, and why are they lonely and depressed?” It shouldn’t necessarily be an either/or proposition, but it is a matter of emphasis. The reasons surely are complex, but we must work through them if we realistically hope to bring true transformation to our youth.
Whether we rise to this occasion or not, parents and the church are in fact in the best position to address root issues in a teen’s life. For one thing, a school environment, and to a lesser extent a non-faith-based community program, isn’t necessarily the best social space to discuss some of the conversation that would likely surface in discussions about root issues. It’s much less likely that a teenage girl in an inner-city school is going to open up about her family history that’s contributing to her sexual acting out.
Conversely, the natural rhythms of family life, and the spiritual focus of a church are natural places to discuss emotional responsibility, intimacy, the real-life realities of romantic love, and other related concepts. We just need to take advantage of this dynamic.
Principle 3: Know the Deal and Keep it Real. Uninformed adults trying to talk to teens about sex is a waste of time. The Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MI) suggests that parents educate themselves about the incidence of teen sex and what their kids are learning in their school sex education class. Other experts counsel that parents find out what their teens listen to and watch. There are certainly plenty of websites, books, brochures and other media to help answer these questions. But from personal experience, the best way to tune in to the mind and heart of a teenager is to simply listen and observe. Listen to how young people describe their friendships, the reasons they give for liking certain kinds of music and movies; and observe their emotional responses to the events in their lives. It’s not always easy to get kids to talk, but the more you sincerely listen the more they talk.
But what about those kids whose parents are bogged down working two jobs, or they don’t even know their parents, or they rarely know where their parents are? These are the tough cases, but this principle still applies. Here is where the church and faith-based community groups can help. Organizations and ministries with experience working with the hardest urban youth — groups like Fuller Youth Institute, Urban Youth Workers Institute, the Center for Parent & Youth Understanding, and others — echo the same refrain: young people want to be heard. But they want to interact with adults who know something about their day-to-day experience and who are available to them. But often churches suffer from the same adult absenteeism as do individual families. Another instance where adults need to do some soul-searching.
The old cultural dynamic of taking care of one another needs to be reinstated among us. Our current mentality of doing just enough to take care of our own is leaving too many of us uncared for. We’ve become strangers to sacrifice, and that’s what it’s going to take to reclaim our urban teens. Maybe our son doesn’t need to play four sports and see every first-run movie the moment it hits the screen. Perhaps we could cut down on two activities and use that time to help out with the youth group at our church.
In addition to knowing what’s going on in young people’s lives, parents and church members would do well to be more open to sharing their own personal stories as they relate to sexual decisions and choices. This seems especially difficult for us. Parents don’t want to lose face as they try to direct their teens, and some old-guard congregations believe that “airing dirty laundry” simply promotes unhealthy lifestyles. Even the government understands the fallacy of this thinking. Through its “Parents, Speak Up!” campaign, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services encourages parents to discuss with their children the importance of waiting to have sex:
Maybe you made different choices when you were young and don’t want to seem like a hypocrite. While [this reason is] understandable, you still owe it to your teen to put [it] aside. Healthy choices will better prepare your teen to deal with sex; and you need to help your teen make healthy choices.
We can use these discussions to show empathy for the pressure teens feel, and more importantly, to testify to the redeeming power of Christ. What better way to introduce them to the Christian faith?
Getting urban teens to hear and understand the truths regarding sexual lifestyles and behaviors is so critical, and we can’t afford to continue to lose this battle. It’s not about a culture war; it’s about young women and men who are looking for us to step up and make a difference in their lives.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? This article suggests a few principles that might help, but what has been your experience with this issue? Many UrbanFaith readers are parents, youth leaders, or former teens who have “been there” and have invaluable wisdom to offer. How can parents, churches, and youth ministries make inroads with urban youth on this critical issue?
Share some of your thoughts, experiences, and recommendations in the comments section below, and let us know if it would be okay to contact you for a follow-up interview. We’ll feature a roundup of some of the best stories, ideas, and strategies in a future UrbanFaith article.
• Talking to Your Pre-Teen or Teen About Waiting.
Advice for parents from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 4Parents.gov site also features tips and information for talking to teens about general sexual development and risky behaviors.
• Urban Youth Workers Institute Focus Group Survey, October 2008.
The purpose of these focus groups was twofold: (1) to learn from youth workers about the ethnically diverse teens they serve and to explore teens’ attitudes and beliefs about sex, relationships, teen pregnancy, and parenting; and (2) to hear from youth workers themselves about unplanned pregnancy among their 20-something peers.
• Black Youth Project, June 2007.
This project examines the attitudes, resources, and culture of African American youth ages 15 to 25, exploring how these factors and others influence their decision-making, norms, and behavior in critical domains such as sex, health, and politics.
Also be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of special articles by Chandra White-Cummings.
Teenagers are trying things that not only degrade them as human beings, but also set them up for possible adulthood addictions that could take a lifetime to overcome. (Persons pictured are models; image is for illustrative purposes only.)
In Part 1 of this special series we surveyed disturbing trends among urban teens when it comes to their attitudes about sex, relationships, and teen pregnancy. A 2008 study conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTP) spoke to a variety of urban youth workers about the things they’re witnessing among the teens they serve. A lack of positive role models, a glorification of teen pregnancy, and a failure on the part of faith institutions to more directly address the issue of sex were among the top problems they observed.
“These are issues that young adults are dealing with but the church isn’t talking about,” said one youth worker. And that’s the point of this series.