Education key in preventing teen pregnancy

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Year after year, research from the Mississippi Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control shows that Mississippi has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.  The latest data shows that Mississippi averages 65 teen pregnancies per 1,000 girls.  That's much higher than our neighbors Alabama and Louisiana that sit at 53 and 55 respectively.

Within the coastal counties, Harrison County sits at the state average, with Hancock and Jackson Counties rating at 59 and 60 respectively.

So, why do teen pregnancy rates consistently remain high?

"They're not getting the facts.  They're getting them from the outside.  From their friends, and their other peers, girl talk, guy talk, and this is where they're getting it.  Just from hearing some of the questions they ask in class I know that they're not getting it," said comprehensive health teacher Hazel Stewart.

For educators, the reason for so many teen pregnancies is information, or rather lack of it.

"For the younger students, I think their parents are a huge influence on their thoughts about sexuality. I think as they get older, their peers, the things they see in the media, their influences can impact them. So, there are a lot of things that can play into their decisions," said school nurse Carmen Davis.

In Mississippi, a comprehensive health class is required for graduation.  That class includes an overview of everything from the systems in the body to sexual health.   However, it is the state's policy to emphasize abstinence in the classroom.  Safe sex practices are not part of the curriculum.

"Our guidelines are to teach the abstinence education here at school.  That's what we have to teach so, that's the guidelines we have to go by," said Davis.

"I think that it's for the parents to have an open door policy to talk freely and openly to them about alternatives if they make the decision to be sexually active," said school nurse Jalena Taylor.

"We're limited. We're limited on what we can teach. It has become an issue, especially with parental guidance.  Parents are a little bit apprehensive about what we teach and what we tell the kids," said Stewart.

It's true that sex is an awkward subject for anyone.  However, kids today are learning about it as much from peers as they are from textbooks. That's why educators say it has to be discussed in the home as well as the classroom.

"My mom was basically oblivious to the fact that her daughter would be having sex, because I was kind a goody two-shoes in high school," said Long Beach native Lindsay Huckabee.

Huckabee was 17 when she found out she was pregnant.  Like so many kids, Huckabee was a teen active in church and school.  She had a steady boyfriend whom she said she loved.

However, when the couple became intimate and she got pregnant, things changed.

"He told his parents and then the word abortion came up, and breaking up, and a whirlwind of emotions and things I wasn't prepared for," said Huckabee.

Huckabee said she took the situation, and made the best of it.  She moved to Washington to live with family and finish school.  Now a married mother of five, she believes open and honest conversations about sex are the best way to keep teens out of trouble.

"I think that parents are too naive and no one wants to hear that. Everybody "knows" their child and "knows" that my child goes to church and there's no possible way, and that's not how we're raised in this house.  At the end of the day it's too easy to forget when we were teenagers and the hormones and the pressure," said Huckabee.

Teens are also influenced by pop culture.  Movies and TV shows make teen pregnancy seem glamorous and easy.  Huckabee said that couldn't be further from reality.

"Teens look at it, and they [TV shows] show the belly and the tears and the little bit of arguing. But, at the end of the day you have this perfect great baby, and everybody is falling over themselves to help you," said Huckabee. "It's like that for the first couple of weeks, but then they don't show, at a year old, buying diapers and trying to find a job and trying to juggle everything  and trying to actually meet somebody who can fit you and your child into their life as a permanent thing," said Huckabee.

Huckabee said people don't realize how easy it is for even the best behaved teens to go "too far." She also believes that it's not realistic to assume that every teen will choose abstinence.

"It's obviously not realistic or we wouldn't have the highest teen pregnancy rate," said Huckabee.

Stewart agrees that schools are too limited in what they can teach.  Although she said she firmly believes that abstinence is the best and ideal choice for teenagers, she also believes teens must know how to make smart choices about sex.

"When it comes down to the wire, they need to be educated.  It's as simple as that," said Stewart.

Often, when it comes to talking to teens about sex, parents are just as scared as their kids.  Stewart suggests using a joke to break the ice, and doing research online on how to direct the conversation.

Huckabee also suggests that parents get nosey, and stay involved in their kids' activities.

"Ultimately your parents are going to want what is best for you. And if you are going to make the decision to have sex, you don't want to compound that with another bad decision," said Huckabee.

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