08/02/09 — Stopping teen pregnancy before it can even start

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Stopping teen pregnancy before it can even start

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 2, 2009 2:00 AM

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Kay Phillips, executive director of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of N.C., talks about the growing problem of teen pregnancy in the United States before a crowd of nearly 100 at Goldsboro High School on Saturday

When Kay Philips' son was a teenager, she never felt guilty about rifling through his book bag and looking for anything that could mean he was getting into dangerous activities.

"It was my home, my son, and I bought that book bag," said Mrs. Phillips, executive director of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina.

Parents play the most important role in preventing teen pregnancies and they must be fearless in educating teens about sex, she told the Advocating for Prevention forum Saturday morning in the Goldsboro High School auditorium.

"Parents, get over it. Stop being embarrassed, get your head out of the sand. These are your babies," she said.

The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina and Rep. G.K. Butterfield's office invited parents, teens and community leaders to attend the public forum to share ideas about reducing the number of teenage pregnancies in the state.

Mayor Al King had hoped to see more of a turnout to the event, but thanked all of the participants for attending.

"I was hoping to see this room full, standing room only," said King. "This subject is one of the most important facing this country, not just Goldsboro."

Everyone must have a strong foundation to build on to succeed, and developing that foundation is especially important for young people, he said.

County commissioners Jack Best and J.D. Evans attended the forum, and Dr. Sandra McCullen, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction also represented the school system. Representatives from Greene, Lenoir and Wilson counties were also present.

Goldsboro High School principal Patricia Burden discussed ways of preventing teenage pregnancies and what parents and schools can do to help.

Some teen girls "want love from a boy or a baby," but get more than they bargained for.

"They think that is ready, and we know that that is not true," Ms. Burden said.

Providing a loving and encouraging home environment can go far in keeping girls from becoming young mothers, and education, reducing poverty and preventing school dropouts are also key to lowering the teen pregnancy rate.

Beginning age-appropriate talks about sex at an early age, and keeping the conversation going throughout a child's life is far better than having one big "talk" about sexual activity when they're a teenager.

"Open up, be available," Mrs. Phillips said.

About 80-85 percent of teen mothers in the country are poor, and one in four teen mothers dropped out of school before conceiving, she said, but there is good news for prevention advocates. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States declined by a third from 1991 to 2002, according to data from the North Carolina campaign.

"N.C. has been going down in recent years. We hope to keep it declining," Mrs. Phillips said.

But not every child has the kind of support they need at home to encourage them to stay in school and make wise decisions about sexual activity. Every year the teachers and administrators at Goldsboro High School greet students returning from summer vacation and see some young women beginning to show their pregnancies, Ms. Burden said, and adults should help students have a better understanding of their responsibilities.

"We have so many who do not have the support," she said.

Wayne County Public Schools have teen pregnancy prevention coordinators who can help teens understand the ramifications of their actions, and the community has several independent agencies that can provide assistance to young women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy or counseling for teens who have had an abortion.

North Carolina public schools will begin comprehensive sex education classes in the fall of 2010.

Young adults from local churches provided inspirational music, dance and a mime performance during the forum.

"These young people could be anywhere on a Saturday morning, but they're here," Ms. Burden said.