October is one of the busiest months of the year for the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the hard work for staff, volunteers, partners and supporters has nothing to do with fall or Halloween.
October is Let’s Talk Month, an annual public awareness campaign led by Advocates for Youth to encourage open communication between young people and parents or other trusted adults. SC Campaign staff spent the month crisscrossing the state, continuing their work even though South Carolina’s teen birth rate has declined by 61% since 1991.
“The birth rate has come down so much, so there’s a lot to celebrate, but there’s still so much to do,” said new SC Campaign CEO Beth De Santis. “It’s not okay that we’re 13th or 14th in the country depending on which data set you look at. We don’t want to be that high.”
De Santis, who accepted the new position in October after working at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control for 16 years, said the key to seeing the teen birth rate continue to decline is information: “Fact-based, evidence-based, correct information that’s age-appropriate.”
Let’s Talk Month is devoted to supplying adults with that information, because research shows teens still come to trusted adults for counsel. De Santis said parents need to be prepared to discuss sex and pregnancy with their children, but so do teachers, coaches, faith leaders, aunts and uncles and any adult involved in a child’s life.
“There are so many kids who will go to another trusted adult [rather than a parent],” De Santis said. “To give them the skills to have that conversation is really what we’re trying to do.”
De Santis said she and others at the SC Campaign are aware of how awkward it can be for an adult to discuss sex with a child, but it is critical to do it anyway. “The worst conversation is ‘I got a girl pregnant’ or ‘I am pregnant,'” she said. “I’d rather have 1,500 awkward conversations to avoid that one.”
She added that teens need information to make the best possible decisions. They need to know that less than half of teen mothers in South Carolina graduate from high school. They need to know that 80 percent of teen mothers are unmarried, and fathers pay an average of less than $800 per year in child support. They need to know that more than half of mothers on welfare had their first child as a teenager.
“The key is to help them make better choices,” De Santis said. “You’re not born with that skill set. You have to be taught.”
For those who need help starting the conversations, or for teens who do not have a trusted adult to turn to, the SC Campaign has resources available online to provide the needed information. De Santis said in this age of technology more than ever, it is vital that teens be given facts, not myths. “There’s really bad information out on the internet, and the key is to make sure that everybody has the evidence-based information that is age-appropriate and not just what somebody’s allowed to post on the internet.”