Compared to only a few decades ago, American society has become more open and accepting of teenage pregnancy. Pregnant teens are no longer hidden away with relatives. More importantly, many school and community groups have adopted honest and aggressive strategies to address the growing incidences of teenage pregnancy.
This paper evaluates the effectiveness of four different styles of programs in preventing pregnancy in teenage girls. These programs include sex education in schools, one-on-one conversations between patient and health care worker in a clinical setting, service learning programs and finally, youth development programs. Emphasis is given on the effectiveness of these programs in preventing pregnancy in teenage African-American girls.
The first part of this paper is an overview of teen pregnancy statistics, both throughout the United States and with African-American teenagers in particular. The next part of the paper then identifies the factors behind the rising rates of pregnancy among black teenagers.
In the third and main part, this paper looks at the diverse programs and policies that are being implemented to help stop teenage pregnancy. The paper then evaluates whether or not these programs address the unique factors that contribute to teen pregnancy in African-American teens.
In the conclusion, this paper argues that pregnancy rates among black teens continue to rise, because these programs do not address the special factors behind pregnancies in this group. Thus, in order to effectively address teen pregnancy in black teenagers, more policies must be enacted to address factors like poverty and school drop-out rates.
Overall, teenage pregnancies in the United States have declined since 1991. However, studies such as Singh and Darroch (2000) have shown that a full 40% of all young women become pregnant before they turn 20 years old. Furthermore, 25% of sexually active teenagers contact a sexually transmitted disease every year. Also, despite the steady decrease, the United States still has the highest pregnancy and birth rate among industrialized nations.
Numerous studies have looked into the causes for teenage pregnancy in the United States. In a longitudinal study, Harding (2003) found a strong link between neighborhood poverty and a teen's tendency to drop out of high school, engage in risky sexual behavior and have a teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancies were much more common in high-poverty neighborhoods than in their more affluent counterparts. Harding (2003) found that this causal link remained strong, even when different family backgrounds were taken in to account.
Other studies, however, believe that familial relations play a strong play a stronger role than neighborhood poverty. Moore and Chase-Lansdale (2001) found that African-American adolescents in poor neighborhoods have a greater probability of engaging in early sexual activity, compared to their peers in more affluent households. However, this study also found factors that create differences in sexual activity within the disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Moore and Chase-Lansdale (2001) found, for example, that African-American teenagers who enjoy strong bonds with their parents were more likely to abstain from early sexual behavior. This is particularly true for teen females and who have close relationships with their mothers.
Furthermore, Moore and Chase-Lansdale (2001) found that black teenage girls who experienced pregnancy were "significantly less likely" to be living in intact families. Rather, they often lived in single-parent households. Girls who did engage in risky sexual activity and experienced pregnancy also reported more "alienating mother-daughter relationships." Their mothers were often less communicative and as a result, the daughters felt more distant relationships.
Furthermore, Moore and Chase-Lansdale (2001) also posited that girls who lived with cohabiting adults were four times more likely to engage in early sexual behavior. However, this trend was countered among the girls who reported close relationships with their mothers.
The Moore and Chase-Lansdale (2001) findings contrast with the conclusions of the Harding (2003) study.
Harding (2003) concluded that the poverty in a young teenage girl's environment was the strongest predictor for engaging in early sexual activity and eventual pregnancy.
For Harding, these correlations hold true even when familial ties were taken into consideration. Since Harding conducted a longitudinal study comparing two sample groups, his findings are supported by solid research.
However, the conclusions of Harding's study are challenged when researchers focus on race. Moore and Chase-Lansdale (2001) found that within poor African-American communities, there were still significant differences in the rates of early sexual activity and teen pregnancy.
In these cases, the greatest predictor for pregnancy was the teenage girl's relationship with her mother. Those who enjoyed close-knit relationships with their mothers were far less likely to become pregnant, even when other factors were taken into consideration.
Thus, for disadvantaged young black women, the quality of the family unit assumes greater importance, especially if the teen lives in an impoverished neighborhood. Strong, close-knit families thus serve as a buffer, protecting many teens from the negative influences from their neighborhood. These close-knot relationships also come into play even for teens who engage in sexual activity. Moore and Chase-Lansdale (2001) additionally found that teenage girls who have close relationships with their mothers are more likely to practice safe sex by using contraception and having fewer sexual partners.
To be effective for all teens, pregnancy prevention programs thus need to address the special factors that give rise to pregnancy among African-American teenage girls. The next section discusses the main types of pregnancy and safe-sex programs currently being implemented and evaluates how these programs respond to the unique needs of the African-American community.
Programs and policies to prevent teenage pregnancy
There is a multitude of teenage pregnancy prevention programs currently being implemented in the United States. Many programs receive public and federal funding, while others are privately-financed. These programs can be grouped under four main types -- education programs, health care, service learning and youth development programs. Following is a discussion of these types of programs, followed by an evaluation of how these programs address the main predictors of pregnancy for African-American adolescent girls.
The majority of these programs focus on educating teenagers regarding the safe sex and HIV prevention. Many of these programs emphasize abstinence as the safest method for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Many such programs are taught as part of the regular school curriculum. Other classes are conducted after class hours. Still other programs are conducted by experts and volunteers in juvenile detention centers and homeless shelters.
There is a wide diversity among the types of education programs. Advocates of abstinence-only education, for example, argue that contraception education have failed to stem the tide of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease among high-school students. Napier (1999) argues that abstinence-only programs are the more effective solution. Programs such as the Washington, DC-based Best Friends, for example, match a teen girl with an adult mentor. Weekly one-on-one and group meetings will teach the girls self-respect and decision-making skills that will form the basis of a sexually-abstinent lifestyle. The Best Friends program also emphasizes avoiding drugs and alcohol, which are considered risk factors for early sexual activity.
Other cities have implemented similar programs, such Chicago's Project Reality. This program offers a "values-based" curriculum that espouses abstinence until marriage as the wise and moral choice. Similar to Best Friends, the Project Reality program offers participants weekly group lessons on substance abuse and human sexuality. In addition, however, Project Reality also addresses the "cultural influences" that promote teenage sexual activity. These influences include television programs and movies that portray teenage sexual activity as desirable, normal and generally free from consequences (Napier 1999).
Other programs focus more on the prevention aspect, instead of only abstinence. Many HIV education programs emphasize using condoms. Most public schools offered more comprehensive sex and HIV education that went beyond abstinence. Different age-appropriate programs have also been implemented in middle-schools and high-schools around the country. These school programs were successful in delaying teenage sexual activity and by extension, teen pregnancy.
Many studies have reported how these education programs have been successful in encouraging abstinence or safer sex. However, an evaluation of the content of these programs shows that both abstinence and safe-sex education do little to promote stronger family ties among disadvantaged families. It should be additionally noted that strong family ties between mother and daughter are the greatest predictor of delayed sexual activity for African-American teenage girls.
Thus, while abstinence- and safe-sex education help to address teenage pregnancy, the effectiveness of these programs are muted when race is taken into consideration.
First of all, it is unlikely that school districts in poor neighborhoods already have strained budgets and may not have the resources for extra programs like sex education. Also, many African-American teens in low-income neighborhoods are forced to drop out of school due to poverty. For these teens, school-based programs are useless. Furthermore, many teens who need to work to the augment family income will not have time for after-school or community education programs.
While the education programs have an invaluable function, particularly in HIV and AIDS prevention, they do not address the lack of strong family ties. After all, as seen in the Moore and Chase-Lansdale…