It’s easy to forget what the world looked like just 20 years ago: No Twitter. No Facebook. The World Wide Web had just been introduced. There’s no texting, certainly no sexting. Instead, young people are building up the courage to call their crush on a landline. They’ll have to actually meet at the movies, because what’s Netflix?
The teenage world of the early 1990s seems foreign today. Technology has transformed how young people interact with each other and the world around them. When a Google search can unveil boundless information, the world is literally at their fingertips. Bad news, right?
Guess again. According to data recently released by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, teens are making better choices today when it comes to love, sex and relationships. As a result, South Carolina’s teen birth rate is at a record low.
Since peaking in 1991, the teen birth rate has dropped by more than 60 percent. Because of this progress, there were 5,210 fewer births to teens in South Carolina in 2014 than in 1991. Without the significant decline, an additional 69,000 children would have been born to teen mothers in our state during that period. That’s real, meaningful progress.
South Carolina’s teen birth rate down 61 percent since early 90s
Community organizations, school districts, health centers and faith-based groups should all take a bow; their work is having a direct impact on a declining teen birth rate. Parents should feel good about their role in this progress. Young people tell us consistently that they prefer to receive information about these tricky topics from their parents.
Let’s also recognize there is work left to be done. South Carolina has the 12th highest teen birth rate in the nation, as 4,346 teenagers became mothers just last year. Of course, their male partners — some teens, some not — must also take responsibility. After all, there is a lot at stake. When children have children, there are tragic human costs and significant economic burdens. Children of teen parents are more likely to be low birth weight and experience infant mortality. Fewer than 40 percent of teen mothers will ever complete high school, and only 2 percent will ever receive a college degree. Eight in 10 teen fathers will never marry the mother of their first child.
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Fortunately, 20 years of progress have taught us what it will take to see further declines. We must focus our efforts on disparities across racial groups, age categories and geography. For example, 18 and 19 year olds, who account for 72 percent of all teen births in South Carolina, receive precious little attention in the prevention conversation; disenfranchised youth in the foster care and juvenile justice system remain at elevated risk yet have minimal access to interventions; and a number of communities continue to have disproportionately high rates of teen births.
We must also get more serious about providing sexually active young people access to affordable and reliable contraception. Nearly one-third of South Carolina’s ninth graders report they have had sex, a number that rises to more than 60 percent for 12th graders. Of course, we need a stronger abstinence message, but it is also our responsibility to make sure this significant segment of the population that has missed that message has access to appropriate health-care services.
Finally, nothing we do will work if we don’t do a better job reaching young people where they are. Young people are growing up in a digital age, and our programs and efforts must match that sophistication. It’s time we start using technology to our advantage to promote positive messages and access to services. Our notrightnowsc.org site does exactly that.
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We are pleased but not satisfied with the decreases in our state’s teen birth rate. Driving that number down even further is among the best ways available to decrease poverty, improve graduation rates and strengthen families. Will you join us?