Teen pregnancy requires serious discussion, not just platitudes

Published 3:31 pm Friday, February 3, 2012

In his State of the State address, Gov. Phil Bryant set out as a policy for his administration to tackle the issue of teen pregnancy — a formidable goal.

“Without hesitation, we must begin the public discussion of how to reduce teen pregnancy in Mississippi,” Bryant said. “As you know, we lead the nation in teen pregnancy and consequently, low birth weights and high infant mortality rates. We know a child born to a teen mother almost always has a difficult path to success.”

Even so, we’ll have to wait a bit more to see what the new governor intends to do about it. …

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We know what doesn’t work!

The state’s “abstinence only” sex education in the schools has helped bring us to this sad situation.

Rather, to provide more detailed knowledge, Mississippi schools have until June 30 to decide how to incorporate “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus” classes into the curriculum for the 2012-2013 school year.

State law allows abstinence-only programs to include discussion of condoms and contraceptives if they give the risks and failure rates of each. Abstinence-plus programs have more leeway to discuss condoms and contraceptives.

But school programs can only inform. They cannot control or even influence if they are the sole venue for instruction. There are more hours outside the classroom — with family or peers — that can influence a young person more than a few minutes in a classroom.

The whole subject of teen pregnancy includes a way of life, a culture, if you will. Changing that culture is what it’s all about.

Bryant showed awareness of this in his inaugural address when he likened teen pregnancy to smoking. He said: “Such a change in a societal norm is possible. Forty years ago many of you here today would be smoking during this ceremony. It was the norm and few would have noticed. Society, however, decided that smoking was harmful and a slow but certain repudiation of the habit began.”

As he said then, “Churches, schools, community organizations and most importantly, families, must realize that the highest teen pregnancy rate in America will eventually cripple our state.”

He’s right. We’ll see what he comes up with in a few weeks.