By David Scott
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Teen pregnancies across the United States have declined almost every year for the past two decades, but Texas and Travis County numbers remain two to three times higher than the national average.
Travis County teen pregnancies now stand where the U.S. average was in the year 1991, at approximately 63 teens out of 1,000. The problem is not enough communication and not enough prevention, according to a new study by the University of Texas, with the help of the Austin Child & Family Research Institute and the Healthy Youth Partnership.
The study found parents and teens want to talk more openly about sex, but need more information, and less embarrassment.
“Communication between parents and children about sexuality isn’t what we’d like to see,” Jeni Brazeal with the HYP. “It isn’t very open, honest or often. Several parents joked that they feel like their teens know more than they do about what’s happening today.”
Texas ranks third in the country, behind New Mexico and Mississippi, in teen pregnancy rates.
“Most of the young parents we interviewed were surprised by their pregnancy. It wasn’t planned,” said Brazeal, adding four in five teen pregnancies are unplanned. “Many spoke about how they didn’t think it could happen to them, that it only happened to stupid people.”
The United Way for Greater Austin is now launching a year long study to look into a pilot program called Pay for Success which would recruit private money to promote abstinence and prevention.
“We have such a rich wealth of capital here, and such smart and successful people,” said Dr. Leah Newkirk Meunier with the United Way. “I love the idea of putting that brain power to good use, to get ahead of some of the problems holding us back.”
The results of teen pregnancy can be devastating on a personal level, and to society as a whole. More than 70 percent of teen moms are single at the time they give birth and are six times more likely to come from a low income background. Only 38 percent of pregnant teens will get their high school degree by the time they are 22. And when they are 30 years old, they will only have 57 percent of the earning power of those women who waited.
Two-thirds of pregnant teens require government assistance during the first year after childbirth. All this comes at a cost of $12 billion a year to U.S. taxpayers, more than $1 billion in Texas.
Ultimately, experts say, it still all comes down to “just say no.” And if the answer is “yes,” then you better protect yourself.
Sex Education Programs in Schools
Most Texas schools teach abstinence only programs where there is no mention of contraception.
But over the past few years, there has been a slight shift and some have moved to an “abstinence plus” program. That program covers the effectiveness of birth control when it comes to preventing pregnancy and STD’s. Local districts with these types of programs include San Marcos, Hays, Dripping Springs, Lake Travis and Austin ISD’s.
A Texas State professor who has been studying school sex-ed programs said data shows the more you talk to teens about sex and effective ways to prevent pregnancy, the later they become sexually active and the more likely they are to use contraception.
“So this notion we can scare kids out of having sex has never worked, it’s just politically expedient to say so,” said David Wiley, health professor at Texas State University.
Leander and Round Rock ISD’s teach abstinence only. Round Rock ISD discussed switching over last year, but never did due to backlash.