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Birds and the bees

While national experts debate school sex education programs and their effectiveness in preventing teen pregnancy, local school officials are more likely to point to the media and a young person’s home life as having an equal or greater influence on what kids are doing these days and whether or not they become teen parents.

Last week, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new statistics that showed the nation’s teen birth rate rose 3 percent from 2005-2006 — the first time that figure has risen in nearly 15 years.

Representatives of some national organizations were quick to blame federally-funded abstinence-only sex education programs that are taught in many schools. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America touted their research that showed abstinence-only programs don’t work.

But other national groups, such as the Family Research Council, said contraceptive-focused sex ed is still common and that is why the teen birth rate jumped last year.

Mary Lee Kennedy is a health nurse for Ironton City Schools grades 7 and 8. She said she is not in favor of abstinence-only sex education programs because “That is not what kids are doing,” she said.

Kennedy said she thinks what kids are exposed to these days, including what they see on the Internet, has a big influence what kids are doing and their attitudes toward sex.

“They talk about things on the Internet they would not talk about in a face-to-face conversation,” she said.

She said teens are not only exposed to more sexual dialogue at an earlier age, they are also acting on what they see and hear and read.

“The problem is kids are having recreational sex earlier and earlier these days,” Kennedy said. “They don’t call it that. They call it ‘friends with benefits.’”

She said she also believes there may be a correlation between early use of alcohol and early sexual activity.

South Point Principal John Maynard said what goes on in the home is probably more likely to influence a young person’s attitudes toward sex as what they are taught in class at school.

“This has as much to do with supervision and what’s going on in the home as it is what they learn at school,” Maynard said. “The school shouldn’t be the focal point. The schools reinforce community beliefs but they don’t set community beliefs.”

Maynard said everyone bears some responsibility in the teen birth rate and that includes the young people themselves.

The statistics are featured in a new report, “Births: Preliminary Data for 2006,” prepared by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The report showed that between 2005 and 2006, the birth rate went from 40.5 live births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 years in 2005 to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. This follows a 14-year downward trend in which the teen birth rate fell by 34 percent from its all-time peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991.