Addressing teen pregnancy

Speaker says teach abstinence, family planning

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Community members should agree on teaching both abstinence and family planning methods if the goal is to reduce teen pregnancy rates, said a guest speaker Wednesday for the Visiting Nurse Association.

Isabel Sawhill, president of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, spoke to about 50 members of the community in conjunction with the VNA's release of its annual report.

In 2000, 4.2 percent of girls younger than 18 gave birth in Moffat County, according to the Yampa Valley Indicators Project. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of the visits to the VNA's family planning clinic are under age 21, a VNA official said.

Sawhill's speech put to light the high teen pregnancy rates in the nation compared with other countries, and some community members questioned whether talking about sex to children earlier would help reduce teen pregnancies. Sawhill said that though the pregnancy rates are two to three times higher in the United States, the nation has experienced an overall 30 percent decrease in teen pregnancies. She attributed the decrease of teen pregnancies to an increase of sex education information.

"One out of three girls will be pregnant before the age of 20," she said. "About half will have abortions and half will become unwed mothers."

In response to surveys put out by the foundation, Sawhill said that teaching only abstinence is best at the younger middle school levels, while high school students "need more options." Communicative parents are the best way for children to learn about sex, she said, followed by a community that teaches both family planning and abstinence-based sex education.

Sandy Harding is the former nurse for the Moffat County School District, and led the coed sexual education program for seventh- and eighth-grade students. Harding said that the resistance to teaching sex education that has been in existence at the district for 12 years has slowly decreased.

"The age when kids get STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) has gone down so I think that makes parents a lot more supportive," she said.

Harding said that teaching parents to teach their children about sex might be a more difficult task. When parents were invited for meetings to comment on the sex education curriculum, the showing usually was paltry, she said.

Harding agreed with others in the audience and Sawhill's speech, that family planning needs to be taught in high school early -- as in the freshman year.

Sawhill stressed that parents need to talk to their children about sex and more than the "one birds and the bees" talk.

She referred to a motto that her organization uses.

"If you care about our daughters talk to your sons," Sawhill said. "Unfortunately, there's still a double standard."

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