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Can ads prevent teen births? Coalition thinks so

November 23, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

In early October, The Herald-Mail reported on the case of a 14-year-old girl who admitted to stabbing a man in the calf during an argument.

The victim was the father of her child, whom he had come to visit. Too young to obtain a driver's license, she has already given birth at a time in her life when she probably is not emotionally equipped to handle everything that has happened to her.

Carrol Lourie, director of Washington County's Teen Pregnancy Coalition, offered the article at the group's Nov. 19 meeting as evidence of a trend that must be reversed, for the good of the community.

But Lourie said progress has been made. State figures for Washington County 2006 show that while there were more births (157) in the 15-19 age group, there were fewer (43) among the 15-17 group.

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What that means is not entirely clear now, although a drop from 76 to 43 might suggest that younger teens are waiting longer to have their first sexual experience.

Another good sign: Thirteen evangelical churches participated in "Let's Talk Month," in which the pastors of those churches devoted their sermons during the month of October to the need to think about the consequences of sex and why waiting makes sense.

On the down side, even though parents of all ninth-grade students in Washington County were invited to a preview of what would be shown during pregnancy-prevention assemblies, only 34 parents showed, even though they could have attended on one of three nights in September.

And, Lourie said, of the students whose parents signed permission slips, only 50 percent actually attended the assemblies.

Parents ought to be embracing these sessions and requiring their ninth-grade students to attend, because a survey done here suggests that when they're talking to their sons and daughters about sex, often the message really isn't getting through.

Don't have children? You should still be interested in reducing the teen pregnancy rate here.

Children born to teen mothers are more likely to be abused or neglected and to remain in poverty for most of their lives.

They are also more likely to become involved in substance abuse and other activities that bring them in contact with the criminal-justice system.

So if the plight of a child raised in poverty isn't moving enough, consider that the same child is much more likely to be a burden on the taxpayers than one raised by a more mature parent.

In 2005, in an interview with William Christoffel, then Washington County's Health Officer, he told me that the cost to taxpayers for care of one young women who became pregnant at age 15 was $140,000. Multiply that by all the teens who get pregnant and don't have families who will support them and it adds up to a tidy sum.

In that same article, Edward Masood, the school system's supervisor for arts, health, physical education and athletics, said that part of the problem is changing the culture of this area.

"When you have a 30-year-old grandmother and a 15-year-old child with a 2-year-old baby, that's not good. It's a cultural issue of what's acceptable," he said.

In other words, shame is no longer an effective deterrent, as it was when I was teenager 40 years ago. If the mother was a teen parent, her teenaged daughter will probably see that as just "the way life is."

But there are so many more possibilities out there - and getting teens to see them is the community's challenge.

One way the coalition hopes to do that is with its second annual ad and film contest.

There is $4,500 in prize money to be awarded in four categories, including print advertisement, 30-second video, short film and radio advertisement.

The contest is open to Washington County residents, ages 13-21.

The deadline to enter is Feb. 29, 2008. For more details on how to enter, visit the United Way of Washington County's Web site at

www.unitedwaywashcounty.org or contact Lourie at clourie@myactv.net.

The awards ceremony will be held at Hagerstown's Maryland Theatre on May 19, 2008. Besides being displayed there, some ads will also be used in various media in an awareness campaign.

If you missed the ninth-grade assembly preview, please consider getting involved now. Children are only young once and they shouldn't spend that time becoming parents before they're ready.

Bob Maginnis is
editorial page editor of
The Herald-Mail newspapers and a member of the Washington County Teen Pregnancy
Prevention Coalition.

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