Updated: Mar 3, 2019
May often means prom time for many teens and perhaps it’s no coincidence that this month is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. In fact, last Wednesday, May 2 was the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s Healthy Girls Initiative recently received national attention for its efforts to reduce teen pregnancy in our community. While Milwaukee’s rate of teen pregnancies has been on the decline in recent years, the city still ranks above the national average in teen births. The Parenting Network approaches Milwaukee’s high rate of teen pregnancy from two directions: 1) supporting and empowering those who are already teen parents and 2) joining in community’s efforts to dramatically reduce teen pregnancy through prevention education for middle and high school students. In 2011, our prevention programs for youth, RELATE (Relationship Education Leading Adolescents Toward Empowerment) and Making Proud Choices, reached over 1,800 students throughout Milwaukee. The RELATE Project is funded through Milwaukee Brighter Futures and Making Proud Choices is funded through United Way’s Healthy Girls Initiative.
The Parenting Network’s school-based prevention program teaches both comprehensive sex education as well as aspects of healthy relationship and communication. Our program manager has identified trends in attitudes and behavior from working with middle and high school students each year that underscore the need for teen pregnancy prevention education:
Many of the youth served have not had the opportunity to learn about healthy relationships or sexual development. They lack a forum in which to ask candid questions (particularly about sex), discuss fears, or practice communication skills. Classroom teachers often avoid this area of development because of discomfort with the topic or lack of time.
Young adolescent girls consistently accept that dating significantly older boys is appropriate, and they perceive themselves as being more mature than boys in their age group. These girls often believe they “can handle” dating someone older.
Many adolescents are surprised to learn that the age of consent for sexual contact in Wisconsin is 18.
A substantial number of youth have been exposed to inappropriate sexual behaviors in the home or community. It is common for students to disclose sexual abuse.
Adolescents believe a great deal of misinformation about birth control and pregnancy.
Both RELATE and Making Proud Choices challenge teen norms and educate youth about what is healthy, safe, and appropriate. Anecdotal data from participants indicates that knowledge of healthy vs. abusive relationships has been powerful in making changes to their own relationships or helping a friend who is in abusive relationship. Consider the words of one 7thgrade girl in the RELATE project, “I really like this class because it taught me that sex can be dangerous in a lot of ways. I learned that a healthy relationship is always a good thing and that there are consequences for everything in a relationship.”
To learn more about teen pregnancy prevention, check out the efforts of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. We also like the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s resource page for parents, especially “The Talk: It’s More than Just Sex” which gives parents tips for talking to their teens about healthy relationships and goal setting.
Teen pregnancy rates will continue to decline through national and local efforts and through school-based prevention education at organizations like The Parenting Network.