Today is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
It's a day that should be solemnly observed by every Latino family with teenage children. Why?
Because while the overall national rate of teen pregnancy has declined, it has actually increased among Latina girls.
Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said, "The teen pregnancy rate for Hispanic teens increased slightly between 2003 and 2004 and, for the first time, Hispanic teens now have the highest rates of both teen pregnancy and births. Also, data released in December 2007 show a 3% increase in the teen birth rate between 2005 and 2006, the first increase in the teen birth rate in 15 years."
These statistics force the Latino community to ask ourselves a very important question:
Why do young Latinas want to get pregnant?There's no clearer sign that too many Latina teens are having babies than the title of a segment on a popular Dallas Latino hip hop radio station -- Baby Daddy Hotline. Girls who have problems with the fathers of their children call in to complain to the DJ. There's always a full line-up of calls.
A friend recently told me that her daughter, who attends a majority-Latino, public middle school (6th, 7th and 8th grades) in Dallas, Texas, told her that there were 26 girls pregnant at her school. She routinely has 1-3 girls, at minimum, in her classes who are pregnant.
But what is equally shocking is that her daughter said that the girls sit around and talk about how they "planned their pregnancies."
It's comprehensible that girls would plan for sex since sex is equated with sexiness and attractiveness and is so overtly glamorized in music videos and movies. There's no pre-teen or teenage girl who doesn't want to feel attractive and wanted by boys, but the idea that a fat belly is equally a turn-on is just a plain mystery.
Part of this escalating teen pregnancy among Latina teens can be traced back to the schools, but we can't blame educators. School administrators' hands are tied in teaching any realistic lessons on sex education and prevention. The jury ruled a long time ago that teaching only abstinence just doesn't work -- unfortunately, the Latino community has had to pay the price for such wishful directives from Washington.
Some would argue that the blame should be directed at the parents but that doesn't entirely work either. For one thing, teenagers, of any ethnicty, always think they know more than their parents and don't easily volunteer information. Couple that logic with language barriers (child is fluent in English, parent is not), parents too busy working several jobs and too exhausted to keep up with their children or dangerous neighborhoods where gang influence and drug use are a part of life as they know it.
All of these are scenarios that play a part in teens getting pregnant but one other scenario that has never really been discussed is that some teens who get pregnant are continuing a family cycle -- they see it as a tradition.
Mom got pregnant young, dropped out of school, had more kids, worked dead-end jobs, never thought about school again. Daughter follows mom's footsteps.
We see from the statistics that this scenario plays out more than is healthy for any society. When we also see that among Mexican-Americans there is a 23 percent poverty rate, then the future is pretty much foretold -- Latinos, who will be the majority national demographic in the future, will be the least educated with the most children. Both factors will tax our society and imperil the future economic security of the country if something isn't done.
The solutions are not hard to figure out but may shock those people who insist on believing that teens are as innocent as 4-year-olds or who have a Puritan mindset when it comes to sex:
1. TEACH realistic sex education in the schools. Recognize the fact that teens are having sex and have safe sex materials available for their use.
2. PROMOTE a "Better Future" program to parents starting in elementary school. Underscore the benefits of education and family communication. Instruct parents on what is proper television programming for children to watch and age-appropriate clothing. Create more opportunities for parents to share time with children, especially in middle school and high school.
3.INSPIRE students to see beyond today with innovative programming, field trips, guest speakers, projects, etc.
4. TAKE ADVANTAGE of the work being done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and implement their research and ideas for teens.
The bottom line is that those teens who can only plan for their pregnancies are doing so because they can't see a world with them doing anything more. It may be because they know they can be good parents but aren't so confident of their educational prowess. Maybe they've never been praised or encouraged to try.
Whichever it is, today's Latino teen pregnancy statistics underscore the need to start opening our eyes to what has the potential to change the economic course of the future of this country.
Resolving this problem can't wait for the election of the next President but by the same token it can only start when people realize there's a problem.
How many more Latinas have to aspire to be teenage moms before someone recognizes there's a problem?