Teen Pregnancy Rates Drop Dramatically in D.C. A decade ago, Washington, D.C. had one of the highest rates of teen pregnancies. The rate has dropped from 1 in 6 teenage girls pregnant in 1996, to 1 in 16 today. Brenda Rhodes Miller, executive director of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, talks about progress that has been made, and work still left to be done.
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Teen Pregnancy Rates Drop Dramatically in D.C.

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Teen Pregnancy Rates Drop Dramatically in D.C.

Teen Pregnancy Rates Drop Dramatically in D.C.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Welcome, Brenda.

BRENDA RHODES MILLER: Thank you.

HANSEN: How do you explain this drop in teen pregnancy?

RHODES MILLER: Well, I think that the real explanation is that parents and teens decided that they weren't going to stand for these numbers any more. And all across the city, we have heard a remarkable consensus among adults that teen pregnancy is not a good idea that every one has a role to play in preventing it. And I think that those messages have communicated themselves to young people.

HANSEN: Tell us about some of the education programs or social programs that have been put into place for this reason.

RHODES MILLER: Well, what does the campaign has done is train parents. We've trained over 1,500 D.C. parents on how to talk to their own children about love, sex and relationships. And so part of what our training does is help them settle down and get comfortable with the idea that whatever you know or don't know, it's really important to talk to your children.

HANSEN: Your organization is the hub of a network of groups that have different programs to lower teenage pregnancy. Give us another example of a program that you think has been especially successful.

RHODES MILLER: And it's just astounding because what happens is that young people start learning how to save money. They start learning how to plan for a future. And they start learning through the sexuality education classes that if you have a future in mind, being a parent, before you're an adult, is really going to get in the way of your plans.

HANSEN: The long-term education. Is one of the exercises to take home that five-pound bag of flour and carry it around, you know?

RHODES MILLER: You know, funny you should say that. People always ask me about the five-pound bag of flour or the egg. What we do know - and it's really tragic - is that the siblings of teen mothers are infinitely more likely to become teen parents than other girls. So if the example of seeing a baby in your household doesn't dissuade you from becoming a teen parent, I'm not sure that the egg and the flour will do it. In fact, in D.C., something like 22 percent of teen birth are repeat births. And that's a really troubling number, and one we really want to work on much harder in the future.

HANSEN: It's often assumed that teenage pregnancies are unwelcome or unexpected. Is that actually the case all the time?

RHODES MILLER: Well, you know, I never say never and I never said always either.

HANSEN: Yeah.

RHODES MILLER: What we know is that young people don't always know as much as we think they know. And they may be very glib about sexuality because it's everywhere in the culture that they inhabit. But they may not know all the details about preventing pregnancy, or they may not know all of the realities of what it means to become a parent.

HANSEN: Because sometimes you'll find young teens in love and, you know, to have a child - maybe if there wasn't love at home, the idea of loving a child and so becomes a very romantic notion of what it really means to have a child.

RHODES MILLER: I am so glad you said that we see young teens in love because that's a reality. Adults scoff at - oh, it's just puppy love. Oh, da da. But if you think back to the first time you thought you were in love, you know, whatever the age was, it was as real for you as this desk. And I think it's important for us as adults to acknowledge that young people's feelings are very real to them, and it doesn't do us any good to dismiss them or discount them. We need to acknowledge what those feelings are and help them process that you may not necessarily act on those feelings with a permanent decision.

HANSEN: What kind of programs are in place for boys? How do groups in the city work with teenage boys, specifically?

RHODES MILLER: Well, the thing you don't want to do is try to enroll them in a teen pregnancy prevention program. That's a non-starter.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RHODES MILLER: You've got to look at what are boys interested in. And, you know, it's more than sports. I mean, boys are interested in a variety of things. And the successful programs are the ones that engage them where they are.

HANSEN: You have a sticker on your sweater.

RHODES MILLER: I do.

HANSEN: It says, I pledge to make teen pregnancy a thing of the past. Why? Why is it important to lower the rates of teen pregnancy?

RHODES MILLER: Teen pregnancy is probably the most certain route to lifetime poverty. You don't have stable neighborhoods when you've got poverty that repeats itself from generation to generation. I mean, I don't see teen pregnancy as a sort of a tack on issue. I see this as essential social justice issue that keeps young people who don't have all the advantages that we might want for our own children. It keeps them from having a level playing field. And if this country is to be as great as it's going to have to be in the future, we've got to level that playing field by making teen pregnancy go away.

HANSEN: Brenda Rhodes Miller is executive director of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Thank you so much for coming in.

RHODES MILLER: Oh, thank you very much. I enjoyed it.

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