Sup­port ab­sti­nence ed­u­ca­tion . . .

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The first step in re­duc­ing teen preg­nancy and abor­tion is to know the facts. Ac­tu­ally, we know what works. Child Trends and the Na­tional Cam­paign to Pre­vent Teen and Un­planned Preg­nancy pub­lished their own data and the cor­rob­o­rat­ing find­ings of a vast body of sci­en­tific re­search, which found that the recipe for de­lay­ing sex­ual ac­tiv­ity is parental in­volve­ment, good friends, strong faith and par­tic­i­pa­tion in church ac­tiv­i­ties.

The bot­tom line, they said, is that par­ents and friends have tremendous in­flu­ence on their chil­dren, re­gard­less of so­cio-de­mo­graphic or eco­nomic back­ground and char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Ob­vi­ously, many of the na­tion’s ado­les­cents don’t have those pos­i­tive in­flu­ences in their lives; re­searchers from the left and the right ac­knowl­edge the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with sin­gle­par­ent fam­i­lies, fa­ther ab­sence, de­clin­ing church at­ten­dance and lack of com­mu­nity net­works.

Ado­les­cent girls fac­ing those chal­lenges in their per­sonal lives are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble. Only 1.7 per­cent of teenage males were fathers in 2002; that means the vast ma­jor­ity of fathers of the ba­bies born to teen moth­ers are age 20 or older. There are far more sex­u­ally ex­pe­ri­enced girls than there are girls who are sex­u­ally ac­tive — which prob­a­bly means that the girls’ sex­ual ini­ti­a­tions were not likely pre­cipi- tated by mu­tual pas­sion and in­stead in­volved drugs and/or al­co­hol. So, it is not sur­pris­ing that fully 63 per­cent of teens re­gret early sex­ual ac­tiv­ity and wish they had waited.

But, there is good news. Teen sex­ual ac­tiv­ity is down, teen births are down, and teen abor­tions are down. Since their peak, early teen birthrates have de­clined 45 per­cent, and older teen birthrates have de­clined 27 per­cent. The per­cent­age of sex­u­ally ex­pe­ri­enced teenagers among all races has lev­eled out, and the de­cline among non-His­panic blacks is one-fifth. Along with th­ese pos­i­tive changes is an ac­com­pa­ny­ing de­cline in high-risk sex­ual be­hav­iors.

Ex­perts from the right and the left stand amazed; many thought they would never see pos­i­tive progress in th­ese hard-to-re­verse trends. None of that is good enough, of course. We lead the de­vel­oped na­tions in teen preg­nancy and the num­ber of abor­tions is still far too high.

How­ever, th­ese trend re­ver­sals in­di­cate that pol­icy counts. For the well-be­ing of the na­tion’s teens, we must sup­port those poli­cies that work and dis­con­tinue those poli­cies that are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Two ac­tions are es­sen­tial: Sup­port ab­sti­nence pro­grams. All the doc­u­mented pos­i­tive trends co­ex­ist with the in­creased so­phis­ti­ca­tion and more wide­spread adop­tion of ab­sti­nence ed­u­ca­tion in the pub­lic schools and in com­mu­nity pro­grams. Those who cri­tique ab­sti­nence pro­grams as too sim­plis­tic and un­re­al­is­tic don’t un­der­stand the peer and so­ci­etal pres­sures that teenage girls face, nor do they un­der­stand the depth and breadth of to­day’s ab­sti­nence train­ing. The in­te­gra­tion of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and goal-set­ting pro­grams, along with the train­ing in how to say “no” and the build­ing of so­cial net­works among teenagers, are es­sen­tial as­pects of the suc­cess of ab­sti­nence ed­u­ca­tion.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion re­port that the num­ber of sex­u­ally ac­tive teens has de­clined from 54 per­cent to 46 per­cent and that a ma­jor­ity of teens say that ab­sti­nence ed­u­ca­tion was an im­por­tant fac­tor in their de­ci­sion to ab­stain from sex. Other ex­ten­sive stud­ies by the Ado­les­cent and Fam­ily Health jour­nal credit ab­sti­nence for a 67 per­cent de­cline in teen preg­nan­cies. A study by the Na­tional Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Study of Ado­les­cent Health re­flected a 40 per­cent lower like­li­hood of preg­nancy for girls tak­ing vir­gin­ity pledges.

Con­tinue wel­fare re­form. Dur­ing the era of Aid to Fam­i­lies with De­pen­dent Chil­dren (AFDC) en­ti­tle­ment, teen birthrates went up right along with the var­i­ous states’ wel­far­ere­cip­i­ency rates. When Tem­po­rary As­sis­tance for Needy Fam­i­lies (TANF) re­placed AFDC, un­wed teen birthrates went down, as did child poverty rates. Sadly, some states are now by­pass­ing the time lim­its of TANF by mov­ing those re­cip­i­ents who have used up their TANF el­i­gi­bil­ity from the fed­er­ally funded TANF pro­gram to state-funded pro­grams — a move that is re­in­sti­tut­ing wel­fare en­ti­tle­ments, dam­ag­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of wel­fare re­form (and by ex­ten­sion ef­forts to hold down or re­duce teen birthrates) and less­en­ing the in­cen­tives that helped re­duce the wel­fare caseload by 60 per­cent. If this prac­tice con­tin­ues, we may ex­pect to see a re­ver­sal of the down­ward trend in teen birthrates and a re­turn to the sub­si­diza­tion of out-of-wed­lock child­bear­ing that we saw be­fore TANF’s time lim­its were im­posed.

It is past time for re­spon­si­ble adults in our cul­ture — par­ents, teach­ers, com­mu­nity and re­li­gious leaders, and pas­tors — to reach out with the truth to those vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple who lack parental in­volve­ment, faith and good friends in their everyday lives. “Safe sex” mes­sages mis­lead th­ese teens; the best choice for all teens is to re­main ab­sti­nent un­til mar­riage and to be faith­ful in mar­riage. Those choices lead to the great­est well-be­ing in life. It is un­fair that our most vul­ner­a­ble teens are the ones who are not given the full truth. Jan­ice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., is di­rec­tor and se­nior fel­low of the Bev­erly LaHaye In­sti­tute at Con­cerned Women for Amer­ica.

It is past time for re­spon­si­ble adults

in our cul­ture — par­ents, teach­ers, com­mu­nity and re­li­gious leaders, and pas­tors — to reach

out with the truth to those vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple who lack parental in­volve­ment, faith and good friends in their everyday lives. “Safe sex” mes­sages mis­lead th­ese teens;

the best choice for all teens is to re­main ab­sti­nent un­til mar­riage and

to be faith­ful in mar­riage.

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