Teen Pregnancy in Oklahoma

When it comes to teen pregnancy, Oklahoma is ranked 4th in the nation. Yet many are unaware of the issue.

Oklahoma ranks number four in the U.S. for teen pregancy rates and even higher in Tulsa, yet according to a new prevention program, three-fourths of Tulsans are unaware of the problem.

The Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a coalition of business leaders, physicians and educators, held a public launch in Nov. of 2013 with a four-pronged approach that they hope will lower the rate of teen pregnancies in the state. The Campaign includes public awareness, education and community capacity-building, clinic and health center capacity-building and updating and increasing access to teen birth data.

“Teen childbearing has a local economic impact of $38 million each year, not including the emotional and financial impact it has on the teens, their families and their child,” said Kim Schutz, executive director of the Campaign. “Specific zip codes in Tulsa have birth rates that are more than twice the national average, so we know that our city in particular is especially affected.”

Education and adult support is critical to success. Dr. Rupa DeSilva, a physician with The Women’s Health Group in Tulsa who specializes in adolescent gynecology, said that teens experience the same pressures they have always experienced such as insecurity and peer pressure.

“They need trusted adults to help them navigate,” she said.

New brain research shows that teens are not ready for adult decision-making. “The frontal cortex, which controls decision-making and impulsivity, is underdeveloped in teens,” Dr. DeSilva said. “It doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. They look like adults, but they don’t act like adults. We need to be that part of the teen brain.”

And, while parents have the most influence on a teenager’s sexual health, few parents are exercising that influence.

“Only one-third [of parents] are talking to their teens about sex,” Dr. DeSilva said. “We need to talk to them about choices they would make in different scenarios. We need to give them the tools to make good choices ahead of time, and to promote our values with accurate, honest, truthful information. Parental guidance makes a difference in the choices teens make, especially about sex. It’s up to parents and caring adults to start the conversation.”

Unless parents, schools and health professionals arm teens with information, the high rate of teen pregnancy in Oklahoma will continue, and the negative consequences will also continue. The reality is that most fathers are not part of the teen mom’s life, and more than 50 percent of teen moms are poor.

According to Dr. Cathy Burden, former superintendent of Union Public Schools, only 40 percent of teen moms complete high school, and 2 percent of teen moms finish college by age 30. The cycle is perpetuated in the children. Statistics show that more than 50 percent of the children of teen moms are likely to repeat a grade, and they are less likely to finish high school.

Dr. Burden said that “research-tested methods” were implemented at Union two years ago and it works.

The Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program is a voluntary program that teaches young people more than sex education. The students learn to set goals for college or careers, learn about healthy family life and how to handle money.

“[Using the Carrera Program], at-risk kids begin to see a hope for the future,” Burden said. “Middle school is the right time to intervene – sixth grade. It helps make teens aware of the consequences of pregnancy. And parents are relieved to have the school as a partner.”

Schutz said that the goal of the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is to create a system-level change. “Nine out of 10 adults favor comprehensive sex education in Tulsa Public Schools,” she said. “It has been implemented in four schools this [fall] semester and will be district-wide by next year.”

“Neglect and fear has gotten Oklahoma to this place,” Burden said.

Did you know…

  • Oklahoma ranks 4th in the nation for the highest rate of teen births.
  • 30 percent of teen girls cited pregnancy or parenthood as a reason for dropping out of high school.
  • Children of teen moms are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade.
  • It’s estimated that the cost of teen childbearing in all of Tulsa County was nearly $38 million in 2012.
  • More girls in Oklahoma, ages 18-19, gave birth in 2010 than entered the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University that fall semester as incoming freshmen.
  • Very few Tulsans are aware that teen pregnancy is even an issue in our community. In fact, only 1 in 4 Tulsans is aware that Tulsa’s teen birth rate is higher than average.

Information provided by PreventTeenPregnancyOK.org

How to Begin?

If you haven’t talked with your child about sex, or if you are unsure about how and when to talk to your child or teen, amplifytulsa.org has Tips and Scripts for every age, from elementary school through high school, using age-appropriate topics and techniques. It includes a downloadable Parents’ Guide to Sex Education.

Here are 8 tips from the website to get you started:

1. Start early: Use this “window of opportunity” and talk with your children early and often about tough issues like sex, love and relationships.

2. Start the talk: Don’t count on your child feeling comfortable enough to come to you with questions. Begin the conversation yourself.

3. Share your values: When talking with your child about sex, love and relationships remember to talk about your family’s values.

4. Listen as much as you talk: Listening carefully lets your child know he or she is important. This can lead to valuable discussions about a wide variety of sensitive issues.

5. Be honest: Whatever your child’s age, he or she needs honest answers and information. Honesty will build trust for further talks.

6. Be patient: Let your child think at his or her own pace. Listen to what your child is saying daily about people, places and situations that may be unhealthy, or give cause for concern.

7. Use “teachable moments”: Moments in everyday life are a perfect chance to begin talking. TV shows and commercials are a great way to start a talk about teen pregnancy, peer pressure or relationships.

8. Talk about it again… and again… and again: Most children only want small bits of information at any one time — especially about heavy topics like sex, love and relationships. They will not learn everything from a single discussion — give more than just “the talk”!

Categories: Tweens & Teens