It seems like there’s nothing but bad news all around us. Congress can’t get anything done, the Middle East is in turmoil, and climate change is making natural disasters worse around the world. But a couple of weeks ago, I went to an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies that celebrated a major accomplishment. The teen birth rate and pregnancy rate are both down — and not just by a little bit.
The teen birth rate has plummeted by 52 percent since 1991, while the teen pregnancy rate has fallen by 42 percent. Fewer teen pregnancies mean fewer abortions, less financial strain on families, and more children being born into families that are ready to have a child.
This news came as a surprise to me, as it did to many. Seventy-four percent of adults incorrectly believe the teen pregnancy rate has increased or stayed the same. Fewer teens have gotten pregnant do to a combination of waiting to have sex until later and being more educated about the proper way to use contraception. This news doesn’t fit the current narrative that millennials and young people don’t take personal responsibility for their lives and choices.
This success is yet another example of what government, the private sector and faith community, and families can accomplish when they work together. As a country, we deal with problems so much better when all hands are on deck, rather than asking any one of these groups to do all of the work. Each group plays a vital role in reducing the teen pregnancy rate and correcting for the blind spots each group has.
The government can provide sex education in schools for millions of teens. Sex education that promotes abstinence, but also educates teens about contraceptive methods delays sexual activity in teens. Youth pastors and other faith leaders can provide clear moral teachings about sex and relationships. Most teens are looking for faith leaders to speak more about these issues, so there is a receptive audience for teaching on these subjects. Faith leaders can also provide a safe space for teens to be honest about their experiences, temptations, and frustrations. Loving and supportive families can provide the stability and nurture that teens need. Though often awkward, parents can also provide honest talk about sex and relationships with their kids. Without all three of these elements, there cannot be a positive environment to prevent teen pregnancy.
Ultimately, the rate of teen pregnancy is up to the teens themselves. Today’s teens deserve the most credit for the rapid decline in teen pregnancy. However, the environment in which teens grow up is crucial to the decision teens make and will continue to make. The groups that have worked to reduce the teen pregnancy have made the world a better place for teens to grow up and flourish as they transition into adulthood.
It is clear that there is still a long way to go in preventing teen pregnancy. The United States still has the most teen births in the industrialized world. It is important, however, to celebrate accomplishments such as this one. While so much in the world is going wrong, we can all celebrate what has been accomplished and work to make sure that the teen pregnancy rate continues to fall.
Joey Longley is the communications assistant at Sojourners.
Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock