Teen pregnancy rates drop — but not in Federal Way | Sex in the Suburbs

Amy Johnson - Contributed
Amy Johnson
— image credit: Contributed

I recently joined more than 540 people who came from most of our 50 states and a handful of other countries in New Jersey to learn and share about sexuality education at the National Sex Ed Conference.

Educators from Federal Way, Wash. to Austin, Texas to Allendale, N.J. agree. Today’s youth need context and conversation to navigate complex messages about sexuality in a world of media, mixed messages and mayhem.

Many of the issues that we struggle with here in Federal Way are consistent with challenges across the country, but there is at least one area where we buck the trend: teen pregnancy.

The Office of Adolescent Health reports a steady downward trend in teen pregnancy in the U.S. since 1990. This is great news, right? It shows what we are doing to prevent teen pregnancy is working.

But wait ...

A recent study of school districts in South King County, including Federal Way, found that the rate of teen births here is more than four times higher than the national average (www.seattlefoundation.org). This shows that what we are doing locally is not working. This data suggests that we need to do a whole lot more.

Teen pregnancy is a significant contributor to adolescents dropping out of high school and living in poverty. Children born to teen parents are at higher risk for low birth weight, health issues and educational challenges. These issues affect us all.

The message at the national level is the same, whether from Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute, or Heather Corinna of Scarleteen.com: we shouldn’t rely on only one source (i.e., part of one high school health class) to provide relationship and sexuality information to our teens. We need to work together and broaden our efforts — from schools to community agencies to churches to the Internet.

In the end, it really comes down to this: we can continue to make excuses for why we have more pregnant teens and why pregnant and parenting teens don’t succeed in school, or we can all work together to provide better education and support. We can talk about why they aren’t graduating, or we can find better ways to help them graduate and give them practical skills to succeed.

So here’s a call to you, Federal Way — whether you are biological parents, godparents, grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents, step-parents, or fulfilling a parental role. Whether you are aunts or uncles, community leaders or church leaders, run social service agencies or after school programs — we’re all in this together. Let’s teach more than a few facts. Let’s increase the number of programs that include values, decision-making, refusal skills, negotiation skills, bullying and violence prevention.  Let’s make it our mission to give great information and great values-based messages about healthy, holistic sexuality to our youth.

Are you already providing a program that works to prevent teen pregnancy or supports teen parents in Federal Way? I’d love to hear about it. Do you have ideas for new programs that could help prevent teen pregnancy in Federal Way? I’d love to hear about those, too.

Let’s make 2014 the year Federal Way promotes community-wide comprehensive, values-based education for our teens, before they become pregnant. And let’s create more holistic support for those who find themselves pregnant. That’s the kind of community I want to be a part of. Are you up for it, Federal Way?

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer, educator and coach in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of the books “Parenting by Strengths: A Parent’s Guide for Challenging Situations” and “Homegrown Faith and Justice.” Amy facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area and online. She specializes in working with parents and in sexuality education. Amy can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.




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