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Teen pregnancy must be a talking point

May 06, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Last December, frustrated by a teen pregnancy rate that kept rising even as state and national levels were dropping, a group of Washington County officials decided to risk $5,000 in prize money on the idea that teens could persuade their peers to delay or abstain from sex.

On Thursday night, their bet paid off, as teens, parents and some elected officials gathered at the Maryland Theatre to view a short film, some 30-second spots and some print ads. Many different techniques were used, but the theme for all was the same - sex has consequences.

Ironically, the winning 30-second spot might never be shown on local TV, for reasons that will become clear when you read the following description.

If you were a teen in the 1980s, or had teenage children then, you might remember a video game called "Space Invaders."

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By today's standards, the game's graphics are crude, but it's so simple that even an old codger like me could play it. On the screen, enemy spacecraft descend on a city and it's the player's job to destroy them with a ground-based ray gun.

The winning 30-second spot is a parody of "Space Invaders," only instead of flying saucers above, there are birth-control pills and condoms. On the ground, shooting up at them, is, well let's just say it's not a ray gun.

The creator of the ad is 16-year-old Adam Taylor, who talked about how he came up with the idea.

"I was thinking about what the youth like to do and guys like to play video games. I just pictured this little (male body part)," he said.

Taylor admitted that it was edgy, but said that "if it's good art it kind of pushes the envelope."

The ad advises young men to leave "scoring" to the video games. While on stage to get his award, Taylor said he was disturbed by the attitudes he hears some teen boys express about sex.

"Having sex doesn't make you a man," he said.

Dale Bannon, executive director of The United Way of Washington County and a member of the coalition, said that the Federal Communications Commission might object to its airing on broadcast television.

Things were a bit tamer in the print ad division, where Lindsey Schutte won first place for an ad that features two female silhouettes - one obviously pregnant and the other not.

The message: "What's worse - Telling him to wait or telling him you're late?"

Winning second prize in the print ads were Kristina Fraley, Melissa Campagna and Kathy Vogel.

Their ad featured a silhouette of a pregnant woman, standing next to a baby crib. The message: "Life is hard enough without having someone kick you from the inside."

Fraley said she came up with the idea by putting herself that young woman's position.

"I imagined how, if I was pregnant, I would feel. It would be sad, because most teenage guys don't stick around," she said.

Third place in the print division went to Dani Ward, whose ad features an image of a couple about to kiss. The message: "How quickly lust can pretend it's love."

Ward said that was a line from her favorite song, "So Cold I Could See My Breath," by Emery.

One of the highlights of the evening was the sole short film, shot by Rowan Copley, which featured a young couple who have sex and in the aftermath realize that they have not used birth control.

The girl doesn't get pregnant, but the film shows how callous teenage boys can be and what an emotional letdown it is for the girl when she realizes that she has risked a major life change for momentary pleasure.

Now there are some people, probably adults, who will question the wisdom of asking students to think about sex - even sex with consequences. They might reason that like the one forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, does thinking about it make you more or less likely to take a chance?

I believe that if teens think about what could happen before things get hot and heavy on the couch, they might decide to delay that gratification, or at least use protection.

That's why I'm working with the coalition, because whatever teens have been told up to this point isn't working. And the children of teen mothers are more likely to end up abused, in poverty for most of their lives and in jail or prison.

One of the things the coalition has found through surveys is that when parents think they're talking to their children about sex, they're talking at them instead.

And saying "Don't have sex" is not as effective as having a real conversation in which the parents resists the urge to jump on any idea of the teen's that they don't agree with.

And so, when you see these ads, in print or on TV - the "Space Invaders" spot may be available on a Web site soon - use them as a starting point for a real talk about sex with your son or daughter. Unless, of course, you'd like to be a really young grandparent.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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