As National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month comes to a close, I reflect on the strides we’ve made in San Antonio and on the work we have left to do.
While San Antonio’s teen birth rate has declined by 53 percent over the past 12 years, Texas still accounts for 14 percent of all teen births nationwide, and teen births in San Antonio remain 49 percent higher than the national average in some zip codes. While dramatic declines among Hispanic and Black teens have helped reduce gaps, birth rates remain twice as high nationally for these teens compared to white teens.
Teen pregnancy can bring the goals and dreams of a young person to a standstill. It impacts infant and child welfare, education, and economic well-being. Consider this: 30 percent of those who dropped out of high school cited pregnancy or parenthood as a reason and 67 percent who moved out of their family’s household lived below the poverty level. Less than one third of teen mothers received any child support payments, according to data compiled by the Congressional Budget Office. And children born to teen mothers are more likely to repeat grades and less likely to graduate.
In San Antonio, Healthy Futures of Texas works to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy through education and advocacy efforts. We have joined forces with school districts, colleges, local government, and other nonprofit organizations to help decrease unplanned and teen pregnancy rates by using evidence-based programs that help teens and young adults make the best decisions for their future.
Evidence-based programs are those that have been shown to have a positive impact on preventing and reducing teen pregnancy. They are based on facts, not scare tactics, and they work by empowering young people with information that helps them plan out their future.
When we empower young people with information and life skills, we are creating stronger and healthier communities. Young people develop the skills for healthy relationships that create a foundation for flourishing communities and translate into higher graduation rates, a stronger workforce, and fewer unplanned and teen pregnancies. Youth who delay pregnancy until they complete their education are more likely to reach their academic and career goals and are more likely to have the education and skills needed to support a stronger workforce.
Healthy Futures of Texas’ abstinence-plus educational programs work by teaching teens how and why to delay starting sex and steps that they need to take if they become sexually active. Key components include sex education that has been shown to work, support for parent-teen communication, and access to sexual and reproductive health services. Sexually active teens should have access to effective and affordable birth control.
Big Decisions, an abstinence-plus sex education curriculum that was authored by our founder Dr. Janet Realini and is in more than 20 school districts, meets young people where they are and helps teach them the basics about healthy relationships while encouraging them to dream about their futures.
None of our work is done in isolation, and we work with several partners locally through the San Antonio Teen Pregnancy Prevention Collaborative, including San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and UT Teen Health. This work starts with being invested in our young people. Each of us can play a part in reducing teen and unplanned pregnancy.
Whether you’re a parent or caregiver, the number one thing you can do is support your teen. Build trust and understanding with them by spending quality time with them and helping them map out a future for themselves. Talk often about what is going on in their world and ask questions in an engaged, non-judgmental way.
Talk to your teen about sex and relationships, normalizing conversations about what healthy relationships look like and answering questions that come up. Be sure to share your own values and why you care about helping them establish a healthy understanding of their bodies and their boundaries.
We strongly encourage parents and caregivers to monitor and supervise their teens. Know what your teen is doing and with whom they’re spending their time. Be mindful of their social media use, but also be flexible, as being too strict can backfire.
Lastly, make sure your teen gets appropriate health care. Find a teen-friendly health provider and give your teen time alone with that provider so they can freely ask questions. Make sure that your teen receives proper immunizations, including the HPV vaccine, which prevents cancer in both men and women.
Reducing teen and unplanned pregnancy starts with showing young people that you care and that you believe in their futures. Your actions today can leave a lasting legacy, helping teens reach their dreams, achieve their educational goals, and have a career that inspires them. Whether you’re a parent, mentor, advocate, or policymaker, your actions and encouragement make a big difference in the life of a young person, so join us in showing a teen that you care.