Opinion

The U.S. Teen Birth Rate Has Dropped 57 Percent Since 1991

A second-generation teen mother wants to know why Americans are still fighting about comprehensive sex education.

"Emily B" is a celebrity stylist and reality television personality who lives in New York.  She recently shared her teen parenting experiences and information about the importance of sex education on Planned Parenthood's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Roundtable in Houston, TX. From left to right: Amanda Seales, Emily B., and Maribel Cruz.  
National Journal
Emily B
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Emily B
June 17, 2014, 1:20 a.m.

“Emily B” is a celebrity styl­ist and real­ity-tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity who lives in New York. With the news that the na­tion’s teen birth rate has dipped to a his­tor­ic low and has de­clined by 57 per­cent since 1991, Emily shared her thoughts with Next Amer­ica on the num­bers and the need for com­pre­hens­ive sex edu­ca­tion.

You could say that teen preg­nancy is three times more im­port­ant to me than it is to most oth­er people. My moth­er had me when she was 16. I was preg­nant at 16. And now my daugh­ter is 16.

For­tu­nately, teen birth rates are at a his­tor­ic low right now. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion re­por­ted at the end of May that 2013 had the low­est num­ber of teen births ever re­por­ted in the United States. That’s without a doubt good news. However, U.S. rates of teen preg­nancy are still high com­pared with oth­er de­veloped coun­tries, and teen preg­nancy rates among Afric­an-Amer­ic­an and His­pan­ic teens re­main two times high­er than that of white teens. So there’s still work to do to make sure that all teens have the in­form­a­tion and sup­port they need to pre­vent preg­nancy.

I know this firsthand. I was born in New York but spent my teen years in Nor­folk, Va. My moth­er and I didn’t have the type of re­la­tion­ship where we could talk about sex, and I knew little about birth con­trol or pro­tec­tion. I was in a rush to grow up, but I didn’t have the in­form­a­tion I needed. And I didn’t have any­where to go to ask ques­tions.

I met my boy­friend, who was a little older. He bought me things and made me feel safe and spe­cial. I thought I was in love; and when I got preg­nant, I thought that hav­ing a baby could help me es­cape the life I was liv­ing.

When you’re a teen, you don’t think about the fact that you and your part­ner are go­ing to change as you grow up. Chances are that the two of you will not want the same things in life when you’re adults. The odds are high that you’ll grow apart.

Hav­ing a baby did change my life. I had no idea what be­ing a teen par­ent would mean. Un­til you have a child of your own, you just have no idea how much time and hard work it is or how it changes everything about your life: your abil­ity to be in school, to have a job, to spend time with friends, even to get enough sleep.

Like so many teen moms, I struggled to con­tin­ue my edu­ca­tion and sup­port my­self after I had my daugh­ter. The truth is, only 38 per­cent of teen girls who have a child be­fore age 18 get a high school dip­loma by age 22. Few­er than 2 per­cent of young teen moth­ers get their col­lege de­gree by age 30, and half of all teen moth­ers live be­low the poverty line.

Today I know that be­ing a par­ent means some­times we have to do things that might be un­com­fort­able for the safety of our kids. Talk­ing about sex, birth con­trol, and re­la­tion­ships — and mak­ing sure they have the right in­form­a­tion and re­sources — is just one of those things that we need to do to keep our teens healthy and safe.

It’s im­port­ant for me to be open and share the real­it­ies of my life as a teen moth­er be­cause I want more teens to un­der­stand the chal­lenges of rais­ing a child at that age. I want more teen­agers to have all the in­form­a­tion they need so they can stay healthy and make thought­ful de­cisions about their fu­tures. I want them to un­der­stand that if you are go­ing to have sex, you need to be safe: use birth con­trol and con­doms to pro­tect your­self against both preg­nancy and sexu­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases.

Un­for­tu­nately, not every par­ent is ready, will­ing, or able to do this work.

That’s why I wish that I had sex edu­ca­tion in school that talked about birth con­trol and healthy re­la­tion­ships. I want all young people to have ac­cess to those things. Schools can play a crit­ic­al role in mak­ing sure that young people get ac­cur­ate and age-ap­pro­pri­ate sex edu­ca­tion, in­stead of ab­stin­ence-only pro­grams that just don’t work. Most people in this coun­try sup­port sex edu­ca­tion — in­clud­ing a ma­jor­ity of both par­ents and teens. Sex edu­ca­tion has been proven to help young people to delay sex, and to use con­tra­cep­tion and con­doms when they do be­come sexu­ally act­ive — and it should be sup­por­ted in every com­munity.

My daugh­ter is 16 now. I make sure to talk with her about sex and dat­ing, and she knows that she can come to me at any time. I make sure she re­cog­nizes she’s not ready to be­come a par­ent. She’s happy just be­ing a teen right now, en­joy­ing this part of her life.

When my daugh­ter does de­cide to have kids, I don’t ever want her to have to struggle to bal­ance her fam­ily and her fu­ture. I want her to be a par­ent when she feels ready and sup­por­ted and se­cure in her life goals — when she de­cides the time is right.

Emily B is the proud moth­er of two and a celebrity styl­ist. She ap­peared on the first two sea­sons of VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop. For tips and re­sources on talk­ing with your chil­dren about sex and re­la­tion­ships, vis­it planned­par­ent­hood.org/par­ents/.

 

“MY VIEW” OF THE NEXT AMER­ICAS Are you part of the demo­graph­ic that is the Next Amer­ica? Are you a cata­lyst who fosters change for the next gen­er­a­tion? Or do you know someone who is? Next Amer­ica wel­comes first-per­son per­spect­ives from act­iv­ists, thought lead­ers, and people rep­res­ent­at­ive of a di­verse na­tion. Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. And please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

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