Other articles by John C. Sherwood
Something isn't working
in struggle against teen-age pregnancy
The alarm bell has been going off for a long time. What's maddening is that we seem to be ignoring it, and we're paying a deep price for our stupidity.
Right here in Battle Creek and Calhoun County, our kids are having kids of their own. Too soon. And too often. Far more often than other kids in Michigan.
The birth rate among area teen-agers is disturbingly higher than the statewide rate. In fact, the overall rate in Michigan is falling while our children continue to have children.
Consider: The teen-age birth rate in Battle Creek in 1995 for girls under age 18 was three times higher than the statewide rate. For girls 15 to 19 in Michigan, the birth rate dropped nearly 17 percent from 1991 to 1995 - from 59 per thousand to 49 per thousand. But in Calhoun County, births to 15- to 19-year-olds stayed high during those years, at about 70 per thousand.
Efforts to curb teen-age births elsewhere in Michigan apparently are working. But they're not working here. We've got to find out why, and then act to improve the situation.
Yes, we are doing a great deal already. We reach out to our children in a lot of different ways to teach them about good life skills and planning, even parenting. Programs like Junior Achievement and other jobs-oriented efforts, Learning Now!, Great by Eight, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, literacy programs and the Breaking Down the Barriers effort are good examples.
But something isn't working. We may be preaching to the choir, and not reaching the ones for whom the message is new and life-changing. In any case, the message is not getting across.
Kids are still saying that young girls get pregnant because they're "bored." And, often, the pregnancy is not "by accident" but by design. In a quest for love and attention, these young people create new lives they're ill-prepared to care for, or they perpetuate a cycle that has been in their families for generations, sustained by welfare provisions that have only recently been reformed.
These are formulas for personal disaster. And it's up to us to educate these young people about the better formulas that generate personal success and not oppression and defeat.
Others may have answers we need
We don't believe that the young people of the greater Battle Creek area are somehow more immoral, promiscuous or misguided than other children in Michigan. But it's possible that we, as a community and as individuals, are ignoring answers that other Michigan communities have found.
A new local coalition now is being created to examine the problem of teen pregnancy and find solutions. The group, which is to be made up of both teen-agers and adults, is being set up under the auspices of the Calhoun County Human Services Coordinating Council, representing 36 human-services organizations.
That coalition's chief task should be to determine what isn't being done here that other communities are doing to lower their rate of teen-age pregnancy. And, if those answers can't be pinpointed, one that suits the Battle Creek region must be formulated.
As a community, we must keep reaching out in an organized, public, in-your-face manner to provide our kids with constructive, positive alternatives. This can be done through the county's schools, libraries, physicians, human-service agencies, community gathering-spots, supermarkets, restaurants and, yes, the pages of this newspaper.
The responsibility is an individual one, too. Young people must be taught by their families how to avoid the trap of too-early pregnancy, and the many responsibilities that go along with bearing and raising a child.
The fact that families and our community haven't done this has led to an infant-mortality rate that also has been a shame to the Calhoun County area. We must do better.
It used to be thought that "the less said the better" about subjects such as sex, birth control and pregnancy. We're learning that we can't not talk about it.
Let's prove to our kids that sensible living pays off in many ways - personally, economically and socially. We can't share those benefits unless we act, together and individual, to make them happen. It's up to each of us to help find the answers. We challenge you to do your part.
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