Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beyonce Pregnancy Commentary Missed the Mark

A response Tony Anderson’s (BET.com) commentary on Beyonce’s pregnancy, 'Will BeyoncĂ©’s Pregnancy Cause a Spike in Black Teen Pregnancy?"

As provocative and engaging as I know the author of this commentary is trying to be, I still wish the title reflected the possibility, even if slight, that this could be the foundation for a POSITIVE response among black youth.  Even if young black girls want to emulate Beyonce and fail to see the details of her very strong ability to parent, we as mentors, parents, teachers, and guardians CAN use this as a TEACHABLE MOMENT instead of worrying that young black girls are going to automatically start pushing out babies because of Beyonce! 

We know that there are high pregnancy rates in the U.S. and among girls of color, so why start hyperventilating over what else COULD happen?   Let's try to be proactive and point out the encouraging details of Beyonce’s life circumstances to our youth BEFORE they start making bad decisions. 
The author, who is a black male, may have intended only to spark discussion and reflection, but instead I think the author mistakenly allows his need for hype to overshadow just how fragile the dynamics of race, class, gender, and social status can be.  Even though the article content is somewhat valid and nuanced, the headline’s tired and weak correlation between Beyonce and pregnancy rates among an entire race of young women is completely ridiculous and insensitive (plus, the last time I checked, many young women of all backgrounds look up to Beyonce!).

We all too often complain about the negative images coming out of music and movies, yet when a young entertainer avoids the pitfalls of early stardom, what do we do?  Yes, we allow her name to be associated (even if not purposefully) with one of the biggest societal challenges in the country! 

We are going to have to be more careful, especially as professionals, not to allow commentators like this to trivialize such an important issue.  We know so many young women of all races who struggle everyday to handle the consequences of unplanned pregnancy.  We see parents of teens literally overwhelmed by the pressures of parenting in a world where information moves at lightning speed. 
We work with social workers, prevention specialists, and counselors who KNOW what environmental factors surround unplanned pregnancy.  This list of factors like poverty, access to health care, parental involvement, low self-esteem, abuse, among other determinants, are the issues that these professionals grapple with daily, NOT Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement. 

Of course, I would never discount the validity of any entertainer’s influence on impressionable young people.  Media influence and peer pressure are very real issues for young people.  BUT anytime someone insinuates that one particular group of girls would automatically have sex just because a grown up entertainer decided to have a baby with her husband, we need to ask if the same “brainstorm” would be put out there about other girls or even about young men.

-Kimberly Wicker, MSW, is the Outreach and Development Specialist for the SC Campaign. Contact Kim at kwicker@teenpregnancysc.org.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Did ya Feel That?

This week the East Coast experienced a rare occurrence…yes, the infamous EARTHQUAKE!  Local and national broadcasters up and down the coast as well as parts of the Mid-West were on it, reporting every detail and displaying absolute amazement at how far-reaching the effects of this natural event were.  The public reaction to the earthquake’s even slight impact across such a wide area made me think about our work in prevention, especially teen pregnancy prevention. 

Not that I would ever equate the danger of a possible natural disaster to a teen pregnancy.  However, the public’s shock regarding impact IS something that seems curiously similar!  On several occasions, as I do outreach across the state, I have heard adults of all backgrounds and titles suggest that teen pregnancy is only relevant for some of us… those who work with high schools or are parents of teens, etc.  I often hear phrases like:

·         Whew!  I am glad I have passed that stage (a parent of a young adult); I’m not there yet (a parent of a young child) or I don’t have to worry about that because I have boys!

Yes in 2011, with all of the proven social implications of unintended pregnancy, HIV, and STDs, we still have some  neighbors and friends who think they are exempt from the ripple effects of teen pregnancy and disease (much like we in South Carolina and other parts of the US think we are exempt from earthquakes!).  Of course there are many parents, teachers, and health care professionals who ARE well aware of the connections between teen pregnancy and our economic, social, and public health plight in this country. 

We just need to continue to highlight those connections and to speak up when we hear anyone suggest that we don't have to be overly concerned about the health and well-being of young people…ALL YOUNG PEOPLE!  Click here to look at our Making the Connection series

-Kimberly Wicker, MSW, is the Outreach and Development Specialist for the SC Campaign. Contact Kim at kwicker@teenpregnancysc.org.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some "Earth-Shaking" News -- Introducing @SCCampaign on Twitter!

Today, we are expanding our communication tool box and launching @SCCampaign on Twitter, so that we can continue to make online connections with others in the field, and also to share our news about teen pregnancy prevention work, research and events.

As a self-proclaimed social media junkie, one of the reasons I'm excited about this is that I love to know about things in real time. Just yesterday, Twitter helped me figure out why my cubicle was wobbling. After working in the little graduate assistant closet - ahem, office - with three other people for the last year, I’m used to a variety of ways we can annoy one another in such close quarters.

I peeked around the partition to see what my officemate was doing to cause the mini-disturbance, only to realize it wasn't her moving our desks. She had been wondering the same thing about me!  Perplexed, I tweeted that I thought our office building was shaking. Seconds later, I saw messages from friends up and down the East Coast who had experienced the same thing.

As my less social media-addicted coworkers started coming out into the hall to figure out what was happening, I already knew the shaking we felt was probably related to the earthquake reported by my friends who lived states away. And, OK, I’ll admit that updating your status online during a probable natural disaster isn’t the safest way to take action, but in this scenario it helped the news spread literally in an instant.

As I saw yesterday, staying connected not only gives you bragging rights about being the first to know what’s happening, but it also makes it easier to see at a glance what is going on collectively. So, follow @SCCampaign on Twitter (and Facebook!) to stay up-to-date!

- Elizabeth Benfield is a graduate assistant from the USC Arnold School of Public Health. She also tweets for CarolinaTeenHealth.com at @TeenHealthSC. E-mail her at ebenfield@teenpregnancysc.org.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Enough of the "We Can't do this in South Carolina" Talk

I’ll be honest, it’s one of my pet peeves – this talk about what we can and can’t do simply because of the limits of geography.  I moved to South Carolina fifteen years ago which comes close to making me a “local”, but I fully understand that even another fifteen years won’t make me a “native.”  Nonetheless, I have dedicated a considerable amount of that time doing things that (in my opinion) are making the state better.  I care about South Carolina, care about its citizens and have an especially large place in my heart for its young people and others who are presumably without a voice in decision making.

One of my many professional goals is to ensure that all young people in South Carolina are receiving research proven, age-appropriate sexuality education in school.  It’s a seemingly never-ending battle met with many iterations of “we can’t do that here!”  To be fair, some communities and school districts are well on their way to this level of instruction and are doing the best they can with what they have; however, saying there is widespread implementation of effective sexuality education in South Carolina would be a stretch.

Given this interest, I pay attention when I see that other states or locales have instituted sexuality education policies like this story that broke out of New York City this week.  Let the chorus rain… “yeah but, that’s New York City”… and, of course the “but we can’t do that here.”  Well, here’s the dirty little secret hidden in the article: “a survey… in 2009 found that 81 percent of city voters thought that sex education should be taught in public schools.”  And, the article implies that was enough to overcome opposition from a variety of groups.

Guess what?  In South Carolina a survey conducted in 1997, replicated in 2004 and replicated again in 2007 indicated that 81% of South Carolina registered voters support sex education being taught in South Carolina public schools that emphasizes abstinence but also includes information on contraception.”  Want more? Community level surveys conducted in Spartanburg County (87% support) and Horry County (87%) in 2011 indicate that support may actually be increasing!

The question is no longer “can we do that here” rather, we must begin to ask ourselves “do we have the will, drive and commitment to GET IT DONE here!”  We are on our way, so one final question - who’s with us?

By: Forrest Alton, CEO, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pharmacies CAN Play a Role in Teen Pregnancy Prevention

I came across an article today that I think is important for us all to review - especially those who serve as pharmacists or know someone who does.  A brief excerpt from the article will give you a glimpse into its content.

"Pharmacies are safe and should appeal that way to all, not just to the elderly. Our local pharmacies can benefit our entire community when displaying teen friendliness from staff, by answering questions about pregnancy-prevention products without judgment, shorter waiting times and additional resources that customers will be happy to use. If these places can sustain a healthy environment (where the pressure of stress isn't on our backs as soon as we begin to walk in). Soon, these environments can begin to establish trust with our youth. Teens will remember this trust and have confidence knowing they can get help from trustworthy professionals and hopefully will turn away from their old shy ways or pride that has held them back from asking for help." 

Wow, this author speaks the truth, and at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy we have the data to back it up.  A little over a year ago we conducted a Secret Shopper Campaign to assess a teen's experience purchasing condoms.  The information we gathered was telling.  Not only should pharmacists be playing a role, but so should gas station attendants, cashiers at Wal-Mart, employees at grocery stores, and many more. Review our outcomes and let us know what you think.

By: Cayci Banks, Director of Communications, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy