The Healthy Family Initiative Addresses Teen Pregnancies

By Doug May

Mountain Mail of Socorro, New Mexico

New Mexico is second in the United States in the number births to teenagers. The latest figures from the Center for Disease Control show that in 2006 the teen birthrate here was 64.1 per 1,000 population compared with 41.9 nationwide. We are 53 percent above the national average.

While no one is disputing the numbers, there is a variety of explanations for these figures.

Leslie Linthicum writing in the Albuquerque Journal said, "Our high pregnancy rate contributes to our perennially high poverty rate... A young woman is more likely to become a teen parent if she comes from a poor family." There is no doubt that most single teenage parents become a new statistic in the poverty column. But it would be an error to think that poverty is a contributing factor to teen pregnancies.

It is more reasonable to assume that the attitudes, priorities and life styles that contribute to poverty might also contribute to teen pregnancy. This is an important distinction to make. Those in poverty need financial help for day to day living, but that help in itself will not reduce teen pregnancy.

When attitudes, priorities and life styles change then we can expect a reduction in teen pregnancies and see a family moving out of poverty. This is a more comprehensive approach than simply teaching teens how to have "safe sex."

We are fortunate here in Socorro to have Beth Beers, RN and the staff of the Healthy Family Initiative (HFI), a program of the Socorro General Hospital.

Since 1994 Beth has been working with boys and girls promoting risk avoidance/abstinence education as the healthiest life choice for young people.

Beth said, "We are not just about preventing teen pregnancy, we give them tools to choose not to drink, smoke, be peer pressured, or bulled, and to become positive leaders. We want them to develop into people of great character... Our goal is to reduce risk-taking behavior among youth, leading to more healthy families."

Commenting on factors that influence teenage girls, Beth observed that some girls are looking for the love and attention that they never got from their fathers. The influence of a responsible, involved father is of utmost importance.

Beth realizes that it is a mistake to assume that teenagers are going to have sex. High expectations bear fruit. HFI is part of the state wide "Excel" program that is closely monitored.

Last fall, the evaluator wrote in his report, "While the in-school curriculum-based program may be lackluster, HFI's "Excel" coalition of abstinence groups and youth around the state is very impressive... HFI is an innovative, shining [example] of the 'Community-Based Abstinence Education' pattern." The high light of the summer is a 5-day national conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is attended by boys and girls from the six New Mexico programs in Animas, Lordsburg, Las Cruces, Socorro, Albuquerque and Veguita.

The evaluator's study of the New Mexico's program concluded, "Excel has a huge direct impact on a relatively small but significant number of kids. It also seems to be having an impact on some parents and other who interact with the program..."

The value of abstinence before marriage does more that just reduce the number of teen pregnancies. It also reduces the number of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). One in four sexually active teens will get an STD. Abstinence strengthens marriages. Couples that have not had sex before marriage are less likely to divorce. Sex has a strong bonding effect. But sex with many partners, simply for personal gratification, diminishes the bonding effect even after that person marries.

Teens that make good choices, and learn and practice self-control make better use of their time and often become outstanding leaders.

The Healthy Family Initiative is a valuable asset for Socorro.

Doug May is a retired Lutheran pastor and his views do not necessarily represent the Mountain Mail

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