Scott Colom: Fighting teen pregnancy

March 9, 2011 12:25:00 PM

Scott Colom - colomsw@gmail.com

 

Recently, both houses of the Mississippi legislature passed bills requiring school districts to either teach abstinence-only sex education or abstinence-plus. Abstinence-plus would allow school districts to discuss the use of contraceptives as well as teach about the importance of abstinence.  

 

Teaching students about contraceptives has long been controversial in Mississippi. Supporters of abstinence-only argue that teaching about contraceptives increases the likelihood that teenagers will have sex and that parents, not schools, should be responsible for teaching teenagers about such an intimate topic.   

 

Supporters of comprehensive sex education claim that most teenagers will have sex and there''s not much schools, churches, or parents can do to stop this reality. They argue that schools need to therefore promote the use of contraceptives to stop the high teen pregnancy rate in Mississippi.  

 

Both of these arguments miss an essential point - there has to be a renewed focus on the sexually promiscuous culture created by the media. The best parents (I know - I had some good ones) or teachers or preachers in the world can''t compete with television shows, music, and movies geared towards teenagers that make sex appear like a casual decision with no consequences.    

 

Perhaps the best example of this is the MTV show, "Jersey Shore." This record- breaking reality show is about several young Italian Americans living together in New Jersey and Miami. The show consist mostly of the housemates having sex with each other and/or random people, fights, and petty arguments.     

 

Of course, as is the case with most reality television, nothing is in fact real. All the housemates were selected by MTV. Everything that happens is encouraged by television producers and edited for television. It''s reality as MTV creates it. 

 

The most damaging aspect of MTV''s reality is the promotion of sexual promiscuity. In every episode, sometimes twice an episode, the roommates go to a nightclub and casually have one-night stands.    

 

This happens night after night with no consequences for the cast-mates. There are no pregnancy scares, no concern about the cost of raising children, no childbearing cost for the taxpayer, and, certainly, no thoughts of abstinence.   

 

Of course, in reality, there are consequences for casual, promiscuous sexual behavior, especially for teenagers, and these consequences have plagued Mississippi for decades. Mississippi has long had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.  

 

For instance, in 2008, the Center for Disease Control reported that Mississippi had 60 percent more teens giving birth than the national average, a rate of 65.7 per 1,000 teenagers. Studies estimate this teen pregnancy rate cost Mississippi taxpayers $135 million a year.  

 

These statistics are depressing, and they have been so for much too long. To stop this trend, we must accept that the status quo is unacceptable. We should not go another decade with such high rates of teen pregnancy without at least trying a new approach. Blaming the parents and hoping kids will practice abstinence has not worked.  

 

On the other hand, I don''t believe conventional comprehensive sex education is likely to make much of a difference. Most high school students (I was one not that long ago) know about contraceptives and can figure out how to use them. The problem is many don''t take the consequences of having sex seriously. Accordingly, many students are likely to spend as much time laughing and giggling at a teacher talking about condoms as they do paying attention.   

 

Therefore, we need an innovative approach. We need to first set specific, measurable goals to lower the teen pregnancy rate; and, if an idea isn''t working, we must hold the programs accountable and stop wasting money and resources on it. We then need an approach that addresses the culture that pretends sex has no consequences.  

 

We need programs where teen parents talk to their peers in small groups about the reality of being a parent, about the diapers and the crying and the child support. We need summits where role models explain the benefits of delayed sexual gratification. We need to facilitate focus groups where teenagers talk to each other about the influences of shows like "Jersey Shore" and the reality of promiscuity. We need Facebook post and youtube videos about waiting to have sex. In short, we need to change the culture.  

 

Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is colomsw@gmail.com.

Scott Colom is a local attorney.