General Question

JLeslie's avatar

How would you curb the rate of teenage pregnancy in America?

Asked by JLeslie (62574points) June 27th, 2009

I think teenage pregnancy and single mother pregnancy is one of the big problems in society today. Before anyone gets defensive, I do not mean divorced parents or widowed parents, I mean unplanned children who are many times a burden on society and grow up in much less than ideal circumstance with little parental guidance.

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31 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

Condom on the bottom of every beer bottle..

And education that consists of more than, “Wait until you are married.”

JLeslie's avatar

I agree…I’m thinking pay the girls $1,000 when they graduate if they have never had a baby and the test is negative on graduation day.

loser's avatar

Single sex schools.

btko's avatar


augustlan's avatar

I think you have to start earlier than the generation you’d like to affect. With their parents. (I almost want to say that parenting education should be required, but I won’t.) When parents know how to raise children properly, those children are much less likely to get involved with things that lead to teen pregnancy in the first place. Now, I’m not saying none of those ‘properly raised’ children will do such things… of course some will. Just that the percentages should go down.

A reduction in poverty levels couldn’t hurt either.

peyton_farquhar's avatar

Agreed. Abstinence-only education is outdated wishful thinking.

JLeslie's avatar

I love the idea of single sex schools. There is a county in Georgia that has been trying it in their public schools for the last couple of years I wonder how they are doing? They said they did it to increase test scores, not sure if they mentioned teenage pregnancy.

jrpowell's avatar

@JLeslie :: Tell a kid they can’t have something and they want it even more.

Sex isn’t the problem here. Shame and lack of communication is. My sisters kid is 15 and asked me to buy condoms for him since he was embarrassed to buy them himself. (I talked to my sister first) I got them for free from planned parenthood and spent the money he gave me on beer.

Him having a few condoms isn’t going to get him laid, it will just make him safe if he does. And I had the sex talk with him. But he already knew enough to know that he would need them.

nikipedia's avatar

I think @johnpowell hit on the two big ones: (1) education about birth control and (2) access to it. Teenagers are a vulnerable group both because they still have a lot of shame and embarrassment about sex but also they don’t necessarily have the means (money, transportation) to get to birth control.

Bri_L's avatar

I am completely against paying them not to get pregnant. I think that is insane. I think education has to be a part of it.

I think if they feel comfortable talking to their parents that helps, but I think most parents are ill equipped to deal with it. The taboo has to be lifted. Kids are bombarded by shit my generation (the 80’s) never dreamed of. We used to hope we would find a Playboy. Now they can get all out free porn any time they want.

If you talk to them. Let them know they need to be responsible. Give them the information and tools. Let them know the reality isn’t what they see on the sites. Give them the talk with out admonishment if they are curious. Let them know how you feel of course but let them know your glad they talked to you. I think it will help.

lillycoyote's avatar

First, as a society, we have to stop pretending that kids aren’t going to have sex and then educate them on using birth control and make sure they have access to it, as others have said. Abstinence only thinking just assures that when kids do have sex that they risk becoming teen parents. It’s unrealistic to think otherwise, I think. And I don’t think kids should get paid for things, that were they, educated and raised to exercise good judgement about their futures, that they should do anyway.

Ivan's avatar

John is right. Single-sex schools are definitely not the solution; they would most likely only worsen the problem. Getting rid of abstinence-only education and giving them free, easy access to birth control is the only viable option I can think of.

wundayatta's avatar

Someone has to say it, so it might as well be me: chastity belts.

Fortunately, the rate of teen pregnacy, last I heard, was coming down. Like everyone says, sex education—real sex education, not just condoms on bananas—will help. However, the most important thing is regular education. Young women need to be able to see themselves as being able to be something besides a mother. They need to be needed and valued, and not turn to a baby in order to be that in someone else’s life.

With good education, they can take pride in a good job, and being a good earner, or in being knowledgeable about something. They can learn to value themselves, instead of depending on others to make them feel important.

Parenting and poverty are problems that contribute to young women feeling worthless, unless they are mothers. These are huge social issues, and the issue of teen pregnancy is not going to be solved all by itself. It will take a systemic approach to make that happen.

But, given the way the US society approaches this, frankly, chastity belts might be the only thing that makes a difference.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I am female and I have a sister, neither of us has children or has ever been driven by a need to make any so I’m trying to think how we got this way because whatever it was, it worked to scare the beejeebus out of us to procreate. hmm… to the best of my recollection it had a lot to do with my grandmother and her sisters telling the family stories year after year about each and every so and so and how their lives were lived and blah blah. Of course, none of those stories would scare any young girl these days, they already know the government will care for their babies at taxpayer expense, there is no social stain on illegitimate children any longer and if they don’t turn out to be good parents then they can just give the babies to the grandparents… like everyone else does.
HX3 was raised by grandparents

knitfroggy's avatar

I’ve got a couple kids I’d loan out to a teenager for a week. They’d never wanna have kids after that.

JLeslie's avatar

Daloon, I so agree with so much of what you said. Education overall and poverty are big factors. In terms of shame, I agree we have to take shame; better embarrasment, away from talking about sex and buying condoms. But, would you argue that we have to put some shame back on having a baby at 16? In lower socio-economic subcultures in our country it is completely acceptable to have a baby when you are a teenager—this is a HUGE problem in my opinion. Look, anyone can make a mistake, especially teenagers, I am very forgiving when it comes to these things, and if a girl does get pregnant and decides to keep it, I hope her family and community help her in every way possible to go on and have a prosperous life, both her and her baby…BUT, the young girl should be FREAKED that this event will change the course of her life. I knew from a very young age that my mother would not let me have a baby in high school…it was simply not an option.

About paying these girls to avoid pregnancy and graduate. In NY paying kids to get good grades and stay in school is working VERY well. There needs to be cultural shift in reality, but it seems almost impossible to me in poorer communities. I am hopeful that maybe Obama will have some positive impact on this.

wundayatta's avatar

@JLeslie I don’t think shame ever works as a long-term way to change behavior. It makes people feel bad without teaching them of any positive alternative. What are they going to do? Abstain? When it comes to life decisions, kids need to learn about positive choices, not about what not to do.

Rules are only good for a limited set of circumstances, like not running into the street. The rest of the time, you need to use judgment. Shame doesn’t help you with judgment. In fact, it tends to make you hide, and that really messes you up. You end up not knowing which way is up when it comes to understanding yourself.

As to it being “acceptable” for kids to have kids in some subcultures—I will try to say what I said above in other words. In some cultures, the way to gain status is to have children. You are seen as an adult when you have kids. You are responsible for another person’s life, and they have to do what you say (or so they believe).

The truth is that kids who have kids in order to gain status are singularly unprepared to be parents. But they don’t know that. All they know is they have been shat upon all their lives, and if they have a baby, they believe they will start to be respected, at least by one person. This is a deep psychological need, reinforced by poverty and lack of education. Shame won’t help one bit. Only education and opportunity will help.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon Thank you. I enjoyed your answer and agree. My continued worry is still the family and the cultural mores (not sure that is the right word) you suggested. The fact is that most poor areas in the US have reasonable access to education. Would you not agree that it is the family and community that influence the children to drop out before graduation or even have trouble focusing on their studies while at school? How do we change that? We can’t put all of the blame and responsibility on the schools, even though I agree that education is a big part of the solution.

wundayatta's avatar

Where I live, we debate all the time about where children have reasonable access to education. They might have access, but the education isn’t helping them. Right now, I don’t know what the research says about what portion of responsibility for a child’s education can be apportioned between parents, living conditions, school districts (community), schools, and teachers.

How do we change that? The million dollar question. I once asked: if we have a limited amount of money to help kids get out of poverty, where should we spend it? Everything is linked here. If a mother doesn’t have a job, then she may live in squalor, and be unable to help her children learn. They may come to school with empty stomachs, and may never have seen a book or been read to in their lives. The school might lack resources. The teachers may be just putting in time. The school district might be underfunded because there is no tax base.

I don’t know where we start. When I asked this, there was a movement towards a feeling that we should start with the parents. Educate them, so they can get a job, and rent a decent place to live, and have time to spend with their kids instead of hustling all the time, and so on. But it’s a weak consensus at best. And it’s purely a sample of convenience. I didn’t ask many people. I do like the reasoning, though.

There is a program in NYC that takes this approach. I forget it’s name. But they bring the parents in for parenting classes, and provide a whole range of supports for the entire family, and they seem to be having a good deal of success. So they say, anyway.

So I agree. Family is very important. But I don’t know if it’s social mores that should take the blame. I really think it’s education in the first place. The parents don’t know how to be parents very well. It’s not because they are morally weak. It’s because they simply don’t know how to be good parents.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon I in no way was implying the people are “morally weak” I don’t think this at all…I don’t stand in judgement. For me, I think most people living in the conditions of poverty want to get out of poverty. They are just ignorant, simply not aware of how to be different, so I think we agree. But, they have to be willing to accept the formula to get out or avoid poverty. It’s almost like a leap of faith maybe for them. They have to rely on what someone else is telling them is important even though it is different from what they knew and heard all of their life.

One of the saddest things to me in America is that being poor here many times means you live in an UNSAFE environment. This goes back to your statement about their living environment. Not sure how we fix that either, but I think it is a big factor contributing to lack of hope, anxiety, depression, and other mental illness.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, I know it’s easy to show people data confirming the value of work and education. So I’m not sure whether that’s a leap of faith. Perhaps you mean the faith is in themselves—that they are capable of learning?

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon No. I mean if you are raised thinking the white people are not trustworthy (we see this in Memphis, they still mention Tuskegee)and that there is a perception that in your words “if they have a baby, they believe they will start to be respected, at least by one person” and that if they move forward, start to climb the socio-economic scale they will have to deal with some family members and friends trying to keep them down…then it is a leap of faith to go into the unknown at that point, and leave what you are familiar with, to leave the expectations you have known and lived with and follow a different path.

My father is white, so I don’t mean to only mention blacks, he is a child of uneducated Latvian immigrants. When he wanted to go to college his mother did not want him to go, she was horrible to him, and he was horrible to her at the time. She didn’t know any better, and he was lucky to have free college available to him and was willing to disobey his mother (he was only 16 at the time) and move forward. He was also lucky that most of his peers were going on to college, so he had community support I guess. I could move into a whole different subject about college availablity and vocational school, but I’ll stick to the immediate subject.

wundayatta's avatar

Tuskegee has had a huge impact, especially on science. It is one of the factors that lead to strict internal review required for any research project, to make sure it doesn’t harm the participants. It has make American blacks distrust scientists in general, and generally unwilling to participate in any research project.

I don’t know if this translates to a general distrust of education. I don’t know if leads people to think that education is a “white” thing, and is designed just to keep whites ahead of everyone else. I can see it having this kind of impact. I know that for far too many people, it is not cool to be smart. I wonder, though, if these ideas change once people have been supporting themselves for a while.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon “I wonder, though, if these ideas change once people have been supporting themselves for a while.” Do you mean one they become adults, or are you implying they are on welfare??

I was not thinking that education was “designed to keep whites ahead” interesting how you phrased that; but rather, that some blacks purposely want to not be identified as having “white” traits, or what they associate with being white. I think we spend so much time trying to not talk about the class structure in our society…for some reason it is a taboo…that we wind up talking about race rather then in socio-economic terms.

I do think that sentences get thrown out like, “you talk like a white guy,” and “you think you are better than us.” These disuade young people from moving up.

I recently saw a show about the History of the Jews in America. One of the discussions was about how a black neighborhoods in NYC (can’t remember which burrough) wanted blacks (I use black because all of my black friends prefer it to African American, I will use whichever term makes you more comfortable) to be running and teaching in the schools, I think this was back in the 50’s? It did not seem to be about giving black teachers jobs, but rather a rejection of whites, or in this case predominantly Jewish teachers and administrators.

Many Blacks in the south rejected help from Jewish lawyers who came down from the north during the civil rights movement.

I think there still continues to be a general distrust among the races in places that there is little diversity. Now in NY you are one of the many…you name a country it is represented. But in places in the south, like where I live in Memphis, it is VERY black and white. We people from out of state talk about it all of the time, how we miss the diversity and cannot believe how divisive it is here…how separated people are.

Getting back to teenage pregnancy…I am optimistic that Obama might have a positive impact on education and teenage pregnancy.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t mean they are on welfare. I was thinking that as you get older, and you have trouble finding decent employment, you may look back on the time when you thought school was so white, and wish that you had taken it more seriously.

Race and class are intertwined, of course. My boss, a sociology professor, once told me that in one analysis he did, once you controll for education and income and a host of other things, race doesn’t explain a damn thing. I think we tend to use race to mean class, at least, in some cases. But I agree with you, it’s as hard to talk about class as it is to talk about race.

I prefer to use “black” simply because not all dark-skinned people in the US are from Africa, and I believe racism affects all blacks, no matter where they are from. It’s interesting, apparently there’s a survey of black Americans, and in a recent version, they discovered that first generation Carribean blacks in this country do as well as whites, despite whatever discrimination they might face. By the third generation, their decendants look exactly like other African-Americans.

Where I work, it seems like a large proportion of blacks in non-African-American Studies PhD programs are from the Caribbean. More than I’d expect, anyway. Of course, one shouldn’t generalize from such limited experience. Another thing I’ve found is that the immigrants and immigrant’s children that I’ve worked with have been much harder workers than the white or black native born kids I’ve worked with. I guess they still believe in the myth that you can get ahead in the US if you work hard.

However, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I believe that generational effect. I think that once you get into the middle class, it’s real hard to fall back down again. Uper middle class blacks, at least where I live, are doing just fine, and their kids are doing well, and their attitudes are the same as any upper middle class white that I know. They value education and hard work, and all the rest of the stuff that comes along with upper middle classdom.

There is the thing about “keepin’ it real,” which means, I think, that middle class blacks have to appear to be white around whites, and black around blacks. They are supposed to always remember their roots, and never think they are above it, and never forget who their people really are. It causes some amount of stress, because they don’t want to be accused of having become an oreo, and yet they know if they are to stay middle class, they have to get along well in the culture of the middle class.

I think these are some of the complexities that middle class whites and blacks face. There is a growing awareness that class is what really makes the difference, not the color of your skin. But racism is still all around, and the gradual opening could easily be shut down.

As lower class blacks become increasingly aware they have many middle class race-mates, will they begin to look at middle class attitudes, which have been associated with white attitudes, with less antagonism? Or will they still accuse the middle class blacks of selling out?

At some point, I hope, all people will come to be aware that if you want upward mobility, you better get an education, and that education is not a white thing, but a people thing. Just because you’ve been put in a ghetto, doesn’t mean you have to internalize the ghetto. In some ways, it could be seen as blacks doing their own ghettoization. Whites don’t have to do a thing. Blacks will cut themselves off of their own volition.

Like I said, though, I think people will come to see these things more as class values than as race values. I think we’ve made a lot of progress on that front; it just hasn’t been measured yet. There will continue to be class tensions, but if race tensions get removed from the equation, I think it’ll be easier to deal with a whole host of social problems, teen pregnancy included.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon ok…I agree with all of what you said. Even down to what you said about the term “African American.” If my husband read it, he would think I wrote it. Short funny story: A magnet elementary school where I used to live chose children through lottery, but they had space set aside for minority children. My “barbie” cute, blond, blue-eyed neighbor checked off african american when filling the application, because she came to the US when she was 14 from South Africa—the continent you are from does not describe the color of your skin.

You asked, “As lower class blacks become increasingly aware they have many middle class race-mates, will they begin to look at middle class attitudes, which have been associated with white attitudes, with less antagonism? Or will they still accuse the middle class blacks of selling out?” I think this will actually get better over time—I feel hopeful.

The middle class blacks I know are just like me…race, religion, ethnicity means relatively nothing when everything else is equal. My husband is Mexican…I have friends from all over the world including the carribean (my carribean friend is the darkest black man I know, he has an engineering degree from MIT and extremely successful in his career, which is actually outside of engineering, he came here when he was a very young teenager with his sister and single mother).

This idea that something is white…a style of clothing, a hair-do, an accent is so ridiculous to me. It’s not a white thing, its a corporate thing, or a class thing, etc. This thinking is awful. We all have to conform in some way.

I can honestly say that my closest friends and I did not think twice about what color Obama is (funny that he probably actually does identify with being called African American considering his fathers birth place) I think that black America notices more than white America, which I understand.

Another interesting story…I had a conversation with a black coworker the other day and she said she and her children were jipped because they know nothing about their ancestory, except that they came from Africa. I said all I know is that my family came from Latvia and Russia. I don’t speak the language, I have no idea of any costums, only traditions I have are from my religion, and barely do much with that. She was surprised at my response. I continued to say that what I grew up with is a feeling of great pride in being American, and grateful to live here. I asked her if she felt her children have that, have a feeling of pride and identity associated with being American? She really did not give me a clear answer. I think this matters.

If we want to remove race tension I think we need to be able to talk openly about it, otherwise we can not address it, because I think people guess incorrectly too often at what the other is thinking.

Back on pregnancy…someone close to me was a big sister through Catholic charities in NYC, and she was worried this young lady was going to start having sex. My sister after telling her she thinks it better she waits then also offered to take her to planned parenthood or help her get condoms. The girl replied that she wouldn’t use birth control, because that would be a double sin—sex AND birth control—huh?

mattbrowne's avatar

I completely agree with @Ivan. Take Sarah Palin as a negative example and reinforce the lessons learned.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, there you have it for the internet, @JLeslie. I had the impression that you were a man, and that you might be black. Wrong, and wrong.

The problem with identifying things with being white is that white is too broad a category. I don’t know if there’s anything all whites share. Of course, you can say the same thing about blacks. Or people with any particular hue of skin. New customs or trends may start within one particular subculture, but it’s not long before they may be appropriated by some other subculture. Particularly by the young, who, I believe, do it to distinguish themselves from their parents, and to establish their coolness. They need something they know more about than their parents do.

A lot of these affectations are surface only. They are a look. They do not betray an underlying attitude. However, it seems to generate a kind of arms race within culture. Right now it seems to be being lead by blacks. They come up with something, and soon white kids adopt it, and then they have to come up with something else, in order to be cooler than (or to distinguish themselves from) the predominant culture. Most of these trends come from minority groups: different races, different sexualities, and the like.

If you adopt it soon enough, you can differentiate yourself, and perhaps feel more unique. And it’s not like whites don’t make new trends either. Goth and anarchist and white power groups and the NRA and fundamentalists are all various, pretty much, white subcultural trends. It’s just that when (or if) people outside those groups pick up those trends, it doesn’t seem to be as noticeable. Well, perhaps the goth/vampire thing is fairly obvious, but not as noteworthy because, perhaps, it is a white thing, at least, as far as I can tell.

People, however, do identify these things with race. I guess I don’t agree that this is ridiculous. There are, I believe, correlations. There have to be. As long as subcultures are distinguished by skin color, they will also be distinguished by clothing and food and hair, and accent and attitude. Most people still group themselves by race when in a room with people of many other races. I think that this is less the case in work situations compared to social situations. However, I’m not sure workplace race-neutral socialization translates much into private race-neutral socialization.

In the end, I do think that culture or subculture must be taken into account when attempting to make policy or to change people’s economic circumstances. Scientists who want to do research amongst blacks have to remember Tuskegee. They have to take more of a community organizing approach in order to get past the suspicion. They can’t take the random sampling approach they use for the overall population, or they will get an under-representation of minorities.

In medicine, medical anthropologists are learning about this, and passing the knowledge onto practitioners, so they can learn how to provide culturally sensitive treatment. Culturally competent medical treatment is necessary to make it more likely that people from other cultures will comply with Western medical techniques.

Well, the same thing has to be done with social policy. It has to be culturally competent. It can’t be applied with attitudes of judgment and superiority. Everyone has pride. If you’re told your living practices are backward and stupid, it is normal to react defensively. To reduce teenage pregnancies, we have to understand the role such pregnancies play in the lives of those get pregnant at such a young age. These roles will be different depending on the subculture the teen is from. There can be no “one size fits all” policy.

It also has to be real. You can’t have whites trying to act black. It’s insincere and counter-productive. You need “natives” of a culture to deliver a message, and to help people comply. Otherwise, it simply isn’t believable. But even natives have to lose their attitudes of superiority. Without respect for other ways of living; of doing things; money spent on policy changes is so much less effective.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon very insigtful. I am especially taken with your final two paragraphs…I mentioned something similar in a private message I just sent you, but you worded it better, “Everyone has pride. If you’re told your living practices are backward and stupid, it is normal to react defensively.”

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