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Teen pregnancy carries burden
Health advice
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Recent news reports in the United States have been particularly disturbing; premeditated killings at Virginia Tech, copycat killings elsewhere, terrorist attacks resulting in death to our young soldiers in Iraq and the story of a 17-year-old Minnesota teen who stabbed her newborn daughter 135 times. Other stories described  deaths and destruction from natural disasters from coast to coast.
With all the different newsworthy items, I’ve been amazed to note the intense worldwide coverage given to the Minnesota teen. Articles from South Africa to Australia quote a Washington County attorney who said, “She kills the baby and now her life will be changed forever.”
The reality is that a girl’s life is changed forever when she gets pregnant, even if she is protective of her fetus and baby. The need for unselfish, responsible behavior becomes paramount in mothers regardless of their level of maturity and desire to socialize with peers. There is no “down time” for mothers and no guarantee babies of young mothers will be complacent and undemanding. Instead, infants born to teens are at increased risk of being born prematurely and at a low weight. This puts them at greater risk for health problems.
And this is just the beginning. Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school (only one-third earn high school diplomas) and only 1.5 percent have college degrees by age 30. This means they are more likely to go on welfare (nearly 80 percent).
Teen pregnancy is closely linked to many other critical social issues; low income, education, behavioral health, over-all child welfare, responsible fatherhood and other risky behaviors. More than 80 percent of teen births are to unmarried teens (up from 15 percent in 1960).  Teen mothers spend more of their adult years as single parents than do women who delay childbearing; they are also less likely to be married by the age of 35 than those who do not have babies as teens.
The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the Western industrialized world. Teen pregnancy costs the United States at least $9 billion annually. One factor that seems to stand out is our reluctance to provide accessible sex education and birth control. Ninety-four percent of adults in the United States, and 91 percent of teenagers, think it important that school children and teenagers be given a strong message from society that they should abstain from sex until they are out of high school.
Seventy-eight percent of adults also think sexually active teens should have access to contraception.
It is obvious young people are more likely to develop positive, healthy attitudes about themselves when their parents talk to them and affirm their value as a family member and person. Discussing sex and the parent’s value system and morals is also important.
Young ladies throughout the Coastal Health District will have an opportunity this week to learn more about taking control of their lives. Peer educators, trained to talk with other teens about healthy living, will be available at  Girl Empowerment Day to teach  activity, nutrition, Internet dangers, and how to use journaling as a goal-setting technique. Girls may also check their immunization records to be sure vaccinations are current. The first 90 girls (in each county) to get their immunization records checked will receive a “Protect What You Got — Get the Shot!” backpack. Skirt magazine and the Savannah Sports Monthly will also donate copies of their publications to participants as an opportunity to expose the girls to positive role models.
Girl Empowerment Day will be recognized from 2:30-5 this afternoon in health departments in Bryan and Long counties. The event is for girls, ages 10-19. Liberty County Health Department will host its event on Thursday to coincide with its regularly scheduled teen clinic. For more information about Girl Empowerment Day, call Cristina Gibson at (912) 644-5209.

Ratcliffe works with the Coastal Health Department.
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