Wednesday, December 16, 2009

But What Can I Do?

I work with a group of 5th grade girls at my church. We meet every Wednesday evening for group time with all of our first through sixth graders where we sing, dance, and have a great time before heading out to our individual small groups by grades. My group is probably fairly typical of any smattering of 5th grade girls in the nation – boisterous and energetic, from various socioeconomic situations; some with both biological parents still together, but many are part of a blended or single-parent family. Some of the girls love Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana and aren’t altogether sure what they think about boys.  Some love sports or school or baking Christmas cookies with mom and still carry a stuffed animal with them everywhere they go. Some are aspiring fashionistas with highlighted ponytails while others wear the same hand-me-down hooded sweatshirt or ripped jeans week after week.

Despite all of their differences, however, there’s one thing I’ve noticed all of these girls have in common. They all crave attention. Early on when starting to work with this group, I decided to go around the room during a craft activity to talk one-on-one with each girl. I’d never seen eyes light up the way they did when I took a couple of minutes to ask each one individually about herself  – what she likes or doesn’t like, what scares her, what makes her happiest. Since that one evening, the girls make a point to come over and talk whenever they see me anywhere. While I’d like to think that’s because I’m pretty amazing, I’m smart enough to realize that it’s simply because I gave them the one thing they needed and desired – someone to take an interest in them.

In the work we do at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, there are many stories we hear of young girls who got pregnant because the first person to show attention to them was interested in more than just what their goals and dreams for the future were.  Since that first Wednesday night when I pulled up a chair to sit next to each anxious 5th grader, I can’t seem to get that thought out of my head. Add to that the endless asks we get this time of year from charities of all kinds needing donations to help those less-fortunate than ourselves and I have to wonder – what are we really willing to do to make a difference in the world around us? Are we willing to write a check or drop some coins into a kettle? Are we willing to pull up a chair, get our hands dirty, and make a true investment in the lives of young people? Are we willing to be the one who will shower healthy affection and positive attention on kids who desperately need it?

I must say, it’s not easy. We get busy. We get sick. We get distracted. We mess up and have to explain to someone who we didn’t realize was paying so much attention how she should do differently.  But we still need to make the commitment to be a mentor, even in the broadest definition of the word, to at least one young person – whether your own child, your niece or nephew, a neighbor from down the street, or a group of kids at church. Because at this time of the year especially, I am always reminded that one person can make a difference.  

by: Dana Becker, Technical Assistance Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Would You Do With Fame?

Fifteen minutes! That is the amount of fame that we are told to expect in life. Not that much when you stretch it out over the course of many years. But what are you going to do with those precious minutes?
Over the past few weeks we have seen the results of so many who have chosen to use their fame for, shall we say, less than sterling exploits. The sexual escapades of athletes, movie stars, “people who to be honest I really don’t know what they do except show up on magazine racks” have become the fodder of news articles.

Recently South Carolina joined that list—again. A recent winner of a beauty pageant, who had become a YouTube star, re-appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show in a segment entitled, “Where Do Babies Come From?” On one front it was funny late-night fare, but on a much deeper level it was terribly disturbing. From interviews with people on the street to the “Octomom” the punch line was that our teens—specifically SC teens—have no idea where babies come from.

The tragedy is that for far too many that is the case. The recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 24% of middle school students have had sexual intercourse—yet how many of them have had sex education? How many of them have had a conversation with a parent? How many of them are getting their education from videos, movies, media stars?
But what really disturbed me was that one of our own would exploit that tragedy for another 15 minutes of fame!

Fortunately that is not always the case! While she would never proclaim this fact herself, Erica Powell, a former Miss South Carolina chose to use her platform to make a difference. Throughout her tenure she worked with staff members from the SC Campaign to inform teens how making responsible decisions about sexuality opens opportunities for their future. Rather than pretending to be a space cadet, this Furman graduate gave our youth a picture of a responsible young adult. And her commitment didn’t end with her reign as Miss SC. Since that time she has served on the board of the SC Campaign, offering insight and wisdom as this organization seeks to make a difference in the future of our youngest citizens.

At a time when fame has been used as a springboard to show off the worst of behavior, it is refreshing to see someone use an opportunity to do something good. Erica, thank you for what you continue to give to our state! Perhaps as adults we should take a lesson!

By: Rev. Don Flowers, Immediate Past Board Chair and Pastor of Providence Baptist Church
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Taking a Closer Look

During the last decade, teen pregnancy rates in South Carolina and across the country have decreased substantially. While encouraging and certainly a clear indication that progress can be made on this critically important issue, not all of the news is good.

Between 1997 and 2007 rates of teen pregnancy in South Carolina decreased by 14%. However, during that time, we see two separate stories. Between 1997 and 2003 rates of teen pregnancy decreased 22%, while between 2004 and 2007 rates have actually increased 10%. A closer examination across teen demographics reveals a complex, yet critically important story. During the last decade teen pregnancy rates among older youth increased while rates among younger youth decreased. Rates of teen pregnancy for 15-17 year old youth are the lowest they have even been while rates of teen pregnancy among older youth are higher than they have been since 2000. Tremendous progress has been made over the last decade in reducing the rate of teen pregnancy of African American teens, but stark disparities between White and African American teen pregnancy rates persist.

When we ask ourselves about the story behind the data, we are always left with more questions than answers. However, we do know some things. 1) Younger youth are the target of most teen pregnancy prevention efforts. The most striking progress has been made with these younger teens. Even though older teen pregnancies make up more than 2/3 of all teen pregnancies, they have not received a lot of attention. 2) As in the case in many health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma, there are striking racial disparities in teen pregnancy rates. 3) South Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey data for 2007 indicates that progress has slowed in reducing the percent of youth who have had sex. At the same time, condom use among sexually active teens has declined for the first time since 1991, the first year in which data are available. 4) In addition, many programs targeting youth have been cut or eliminated. These four points do not completely explain the recent teen pregnancy data trends, but provide some context for understanding the story behind the data.

Now is the time for us to build on what works by reinvesting in programs that have been shown to be successful for younger youth. We are fortunate to have solid evidence to identify effective programs for school-age youth. However, we need to refocus our efforts on older youth by engaging with non-traditional partners, such as community colleges and adult education programs. Older youth are more likely to be sexually active and need to have access to affordable contraception services and family planning clinics and public health agencies will be important partners when working with 18-19 year olds.

I’d love to hear from you! What this new data mean to you? What do you think we should do to prevent teen pregnancies? Please feel free to post your comments below

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Research and Evaluation, SC Campaign
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