On teen pregnancy issue, parents can play key role

May 11, 2006

You would be surprised what many teenagers don't know about sex and birth control and how reluctant some of their parents are to talk to them about that subject.

That was the message delivered Tuesday by Washington County's Teen Pregnancy Task Force to a joint meeting of the Washington County Commissioners and the School Board.

To their credit, the elected officials agreed that the county's teen birth rate is unacceptably high and that government, the school system and the community must work together to change that.

How bad is it? In 2004, Washington County's teen birth rate for young women ages 15 to 19 was the fourth highest in Maryland.


If that statistic isn't scary enough, Maureen Grove, the task force chair and director of Girls Inc., told elected officials that the average age of first sexual activity in this county is 15.

Because girls are beginning to menstruate at younger ages now, Grove said they are also becoming sexually active earlier. Some 13- and 14-year-olds in the county were diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases last year, she said.

Based on a needs assessment done last year in which hundreds of teens and parents were interviewed, both teens and parents want more sex education in school.

Grove and others who attended recommended that the school system's family-life curriculum, now offered in grades 5, 7, 8 and 10, be expanded to cover sixth and eighth grades.

Other recommendations: More wellness centers, similar to the one at South Hagerstown High School, or at least a Washington County Health Department nurse for every school.

Since they wouldn't be attached to the school system, talks between nurses and students would be confidential.

No costs were discussed on Tuesday, but no doubt this will add to the county's budget. We suggest citizens think of it as an investment that will pay for itself by reducing the number of infants and teen mothers who need taxpayer-financed services.

And, as School Board member Roxanne Ober noted, some members of the community need to change their thinking about what is acceptable.

Ober said that a number of parents are sanctioning co-ed sleepovers, during which parental supervision is absent once mom and dad go to sleep.

It sounds almost like an invitation to engage in risky behavior, but some parents apparently don't see the danger, any more than other parents see the error of providing liquor to teens as long as the youths turn in their car keys.

At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, parents aren't supposed to be their children's pals. They're the ones who should be setting the example and imposing limits. If they don't help with this teen pregnancy prevention effort, success will be a whole lot harder to come by.

The Herald-Mail Articles