Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Payment for Pregnancy Prevention?

I know that by today's standards, my teen years were fairly ideal and the clear exception to the rule. But have we taken the quest to motivate today's young people too far?

I come from a long line of educators. In my house growing up, graduating from high school was the norm, going to college was expected, and education even beyond that was encouraged. I also lived in a two-parent household (my parents recently celebrated their 40th anniversary), had the ability and opportunity to be involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, and received a strong, consistent message that having children was what you did after college and marriage. I know that by today’s standards, my teen years were fairly ideal and the clear exception to the rule. But have we taken the quest to motivate today’s young people too far?

Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz lately about the College Bound Sisters program in North Carolina. The program provides weekly 90-minute sessions on abstinence and contraceptives to girls who are 12-18, have never been pregnant, have a sister who is a teen mom, and have a desire to go to college. Funded through a state grant and private donations, College Bound Sisters costs approximately $75,000 a year with results so far of only 6 in 125 enrollees getting pregnant after being a part of the program for at least six months. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So what’s the problem?

Depending on who you ask, there is no problem. But I, for one, am bothered by the fact that College Bound Sisters pays these teen girls $1 a day for every day they do not get pregnant. The money is put into a fund which is released to the girl only after she enrolls in college.

And I’m not in the minority with my concerns. Opinions on the program span from full support to absolute horror. On the plus side, statistics show that siblings of teen moms are at greater risk for getting pregnant themselves which explains the target audience. Research also shows that young people with higher educational aspirations and goals for the future tend to be more motivated to avoid pregnancy, and having access to medically accurate information on abstinence and contraception provides young people with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy decisions related to sex. But there are still many unanswered questions.

Is PAYING a teen girl not to get pregnant the best way to motivate and encourage her to make healthy decisions? Where do programs like these leave males – without whom there would be no pregnancy? And does the program actually help prevent pregnancies or just encourage young people to get abortions so they can still cash in for college?

Beyond all of that, though, I wonder what expectations this creates among our young people. Will they believe that making decisions in their own best interest should always come with a paycheck? Will parents see these programs as a way to delegate their own responsibilities to teach their children to someone else - while building a college fund along the way? And ultimately, will we create another generation of young people covered in band-aids but not actually healed of the underlying problems? Maybe my ideal childhood created an idealist out of me, but I think there has to be a better way.

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