Getting Teen Pregnancy Numbers Down

Although teen pregnancies nationwide continue to drop, Washington County has the fourth highest teen birthrate in Maryland: 44 per 1,000 females between the ages of 15-19.* May is teen pregnancy prevention month. For parents, it’s a good time to understand the importance of promoting healthy behaviors among our children.

Why kids have kids

Ellen Hudson, M.S.N., FNP-C, with Meritus Health believes that youth often don’t consider the consequences of their actions. Ellen is a health practitioner at Meritus Health’s School-Based Health Centers located at South Hagerstown High School and Western Heights Middle School. But she also points to other reasons why the county’s birth rates remain high:

  • Children mimic the behaviors and values they see in their home or environment.
  • Parents don’t believe their children will become sexually active because of their conservative or religious values.
  • Pregnancy represents a need to be loved or draws attention from peers.
  • Children lack education about pregnancy prevention, risks and the responsibilities of raising a child.

Implications of teen pregnancy

The negative consequences of teenage motherhood are many. Teen moms are more likely to live in poverty and give birth to a second child before age 20. They also face health issues related to bearing children at a younger age and shoulder the responsibility of raising a child independently since 80 percent of the fathers don’t marry the mother of their child. Both teen mothers and fathers have a lower chance of completing high school.

Babies of teenage moms often face health disparities and increased cognitive deficits. Children born to teen moms also have lower school achievement and are more likely to repeat the cycle of teen pregnancy when they grow older.

Resources to prevent teen pregnancy

The Washington County Health Department in collaboration with Washington County Public Schools offers several evidence-based programs to middle and high school aged children as part of the health curriculum. Parents must agree to allow their child to participate in the programs.

The Washington County Health Department, Girls Inc., Community Free Clinic and the Washington County Family Center offer education on sexual health and preventing teen pregnancy. Recently, the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition has reconvened with several community stakeholders to confront the barriers preventing teens from making healthy, responsible choices related to abstinence and sexual practices.

If a girl suspects she might be pregnant, pregnancy testing is available at the Washington County Health Department’s Teen Walk-In Clinic, Hagerstown Area Pregnancy Center and the Community Free Clinic. The School-Based Health Centers located at South Hagerstown High School and Western Heights Middle School also offer pregnancy testing to students.

Advice to parents

As a nurse practitioner in the high school and middle school settings, Ellen believes that educating our youth against unhealthy sexual practices needs to start before the teen years.

“Talk to your child early and often about your values and expectations related to sexual activity and contraception,” says Ellen. “Talk to teens about abstinence—not just the girls but the boys. Girls do not get pregnant alone.” She also offers this advice to parents:

  • Set boundaries, rules and curfews and be consistent with enforcing them.
  • Have a relationship with your children and help them grow to make positive choices.
  • Be a role model and live the life you expect your teen to live.
  • Know where your children are going and know their friends.
  • Encourage sports, youth groups, friends and hobbies.
  • Discourage early, steady dating.
  • Talk and role play about how to deter peer pressure.
  • If your teen is going to be sexually active, teach him/her how to use contraception.
  • Know that antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of some birth control pills.

“As a community, we need to educate and protect our youth,” says Ellen. “The implementation of evidence-based programs in our schools and community agencies is a start, but we must do more to support adolescent reproductive health and good moral choices.”