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Parents' help needed to curb rising county teen birth rate

April 01, 2008

It might be April Fool's Day, but the story that Washington County has moved into third place on Maryland's teen-birth rate list is no joke. This latest bit of bad news underscores again the need for the entire community to get involved in this issue.

The state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed that in 2006 in Washington County, teens age 15-19 gave birth at the rate of 48.9 per 1,000.

Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore is in second place with 69.1 and Baltimore City topped the list with 66.9.

Though the number of actual teen births here only increased by - from 196 in 2005 to 203 teen births in 2006 - the trend should be headed in the other way.

It's not as nobody's doing anything. The Washington County Public Schools, the Washington County Health Department and the United Way former the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition.

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The coalition has held a variety of activities and plans more in the moths ahead. But Carrol Lourie, the coalition's director, said that it's the local "culture of acceptance" in the community that has to change. And parents have to lead the way, she said.

The "facts of life" talk is an awkward moment for parents and their children.

A 2005 survey of about 300 local teens and 150 parents found that even when parents believe they're communicating with teens about sex, too often the message comes across as "Don't do it!"

That's good for those who aren't ready for sex, but it's not enough, especially for a child who is already sexually active. Both parents and teens told surveyors they wanted more taught in the Washington County school system's Family Life classes.

But turning all of that responsibility over to the schools has one flaw: Research shows the biggest influence in children's lives are their parents. And so when dealing with such an important subject, does it make sense to leave the most influential people out of the discussion?

To help parents with the subject, the coalition has put together a "parent tool kit," that emphasizes, among other things, that this is a conversation that needs to be ongoing. A 14-year-old might need a very different message than a 17-year-old.

Then on Thursday, May 8, the coalition will sponor "Tough Talk," a family health forum at Robinwood Medical Center. It will with tough-to-talk-about subjects, including pregnancy prevention and teen-health decision-making.

The forum begins at 4:30 p.m. in Suite 142 at the Robinwood Medical Center.

The cost is $10 per person and will include a meal. Make checks out to Washington County Hospital and send them to 251 E. Antietam St., Hagerstown, MD 21740. Can't afford it? Call 888-803-1518 for scholarship information.

Perhaps this isn't the forum for you, but trusting in fate to keep your child safe is not a good idea.

Your teen could give birth or father a child, but he or she also might contract a serious sexually-transmitted disease. A few awkward moments spent talking on a regular basis is a small price to pay to keep your child safe.

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