TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
February 23, 2000
Several years ago, People magazine put the issue of teen pregnancy on
its cover, filling the pages with the voices of real teens. I wish that
every young girl in this country could hear what one young mother had to
say: "I made a mistake, and I'm going to have to live with it. But
I won't have normal life."
This young mother was right. Teens who have children don't have a normal
life. Instead of doing what teenagers should be doing -- going to school,
playing sports, hanging out with friends, filling out college applications
-- teen mothers buy diapers, baby food and formula, spend long and sleepless
nights caring for a sick baby, and say no when their friends are off to
the mall or a movie.
It appears, though, that teens are getting the message. Although four out
of 10 girls in this country become pregnant at least once by the time they're
20, and one out of every five goes on to become a teen mother, recent statistics
are encouraging. Teen pregnancy rates, which increased steadily through
the '70s and '80s, have now declined for the fifth consecutive year. Since
they peaked in 1991, the numbers have dropped 15 percent.
It is important not to allow ourselves to become complacent, though, because
the news is not all good. Despite the significant decline in teen pregnancies
and births, the United States stands first among all industrialized countries
in both categories.
Furthermore, few teen mothers today are married. Between 1990 and 1997,
the number of married teens who gave birth declined 23 percent. And although
that rate has stabilized, 79 percent of teen mothers are unmarried. The
impact of motherhood on these girls, their children and their communities
Compared to children who grow up in two-parent families, children of single
mothers are more likely to live in poverty. And they are more likely to
have health, school and behavioral problems than other children.
Here in our nation's capital, teen pregnancy rates have declined along with
those in other parts of the country, and many children are thriving. But
by any measure, too many are left behind.
This week, in response to the problem, I will join a group of prominent
D.C. activists and community leaders to launch the DC Campaign to Prevent
Teen Pregnancy. The DC Campaign is modeled on the nonprofit, nonpartisan,
privately funded National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which was
created in 1996 in response to a challenge from the President to reduce
teen pregnancy. Since its earliest days, I've been privileged to work with
the National Campaign, turning a spotlight on programs that make a difference
in the lives of our children. Now, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to
support the DC Campaign and its goal of reducing teen births 50 percent
by the year 2005.
This week at the White House, as part of a day-long celebration of the new
campaign, we'll honor local programs that work -- five groups that are making
a real difference in the lives of teens and their children here in our nation's
capital. The honorees include a pregnancy-prevention project that operates
in elementary schools, a group that provides medical care to young women
and children without insurance, and an organization that strives to help
boys and young men find the path to a promising lifestyle.
Groups like these teach us various ways to help reduce teen pregnancy. But
the best deterrent, still, remains the strong support and guidance of parents.
Teens with caring, consistent parents or other adults who are willing to
talk about love, sex and relationships in the context of values are less
likely to become pregnant or be responsible for a pregnancy than teens who
are on their own.
The National Campaign offers a series of "tips" for parents and
other adults -- from maintaining strong, close relationships with children
to setting clear expectations and communicating honestly and often about
important matters. In addition, parents must supervise and monitor their
children, know their children's friends and their families, and offer options
for the future that are more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood.
Finally, the campaign adds: "It's never too late to improve a relationship
with a child or teenager. Don't underestimate the great need that children
feel -- at all ages -- for a close relationship with their parents and for
their parents' guidance, approval and support."
And don't forget this heartening statistic: When MTV asked teens to list
their heroes, the number one answer was "my parents."
Forget about having "The Talk" with your children. What they need
is an 18-year conversation with you or some other adult who cares. It's
not too late -- you can start today.
Note: If you're interested in learning more about preventing teen pregnancy,
look for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy at www.teenpregnancy.org
or call 1-202-261-5655.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns,
visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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