Wednesday's Letter to the Editor

Teens need our help

Dear editor:

I want to thank Madelyn Talbert and Isabel Taylor for their letters advocating for "sex education" in schools. Many readers know that Arkansas has the highest teen birth rate in the nation. Garland County's rate is among the highest of all Arkansas counties.

The relentless sexuality in video, music, and everyday social interactions means kids -- elementary, preteens, and teens -- are in a sea of sexuality-charged images and messaging like never before.

In 2015, the Arkansas Department of Health reported that 46 percent of Garland County high school students have had sex, including 9 percent of boys before age 13, and 16 percent with four or more persons. These numbers have alarming implications for sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, and the future of these teens, their children, and our economy.

Pregnancy is the No. 1 reason girls drop out of school, and they are unlikely to go back. Two-thirds of teen mothers are below poverty level and few receive any child support payments. Repeating the cycle of poverty, children of teenage parents are more likely to become teenage parents themselves.

Babies of teens have more health problems, are more likely to have lower school achievement, be incarcerated during adolescence, and face unemployment as a young adult.

In Garland County, this means $4 million to $5 million annually in direct public aid for the 1,100-plus children of teen parents. In addition, Arkansans bear the indirect costs of increased incarceration, diminished economic development and lost tax revenue.

As Mike Melancon of the Tuggle (HIV) Clinic often says, "This is 100 percent preventable." Around the rest of the country, and the world, evidence-based reproductive health education has been the solution. "Evidence-based" means proven positive results in follow-up studies of student behavior, and measurable reductions in teen pregnancies and STIs.

We here in Arkansas have tried the "sex-ed" taught in schools in the era of free love, and "abstinence-only" education, neither of which have solved the problem.

Today in Arkansas, Garland County, and Hot Springs schools only cover pregnancy and STI protection occasionally, briefly, without systematic coordination, or not at all. The uncomfortable conversation is most often punted to parents, who themselves have never been afforded accurate, effective information.

Teens need our help. We teach our first-graders how to safely cross the street. We must do better to help our preteens and teens safely navigate their way from childhood to sexual maturity.

There is a solution. Arkansas schools can reach all teens by adopting any number of evidence-based programs that have proven to delay teen sexual activity; improve contraceptive use among sexually active teens; and reduce teen pregnancy and STIs.

We want all youth in Garland County to have the knowledge, personal resources and self-discipline to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs. If you do, too, please help us change attitudes about reproductive health education.

Contact the Project Hope Teen Pregnancy Prevention Project at [email protected]. We would love to talk with your group.

Denise Marion, chair

Project Hope

Teen Pregnancy

Prevention Project

Editorial on 02/20/2019