“There is absolutely no evidence, no data at all, that supports a belief or a fear that if we talk about sex, it’s going to make young people run out and have sex.” Forrest Alton, CEO of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, has made it his organization’s mission to back up his statement by helping adults start difficult conversations with teens about sex and pregnancy. That mission continues in May as the Campaign launches its 7th annual Road Show.
The numbers show the Campaign has been successful. Over the last three decades, the teen birth rate in South Carolina has fallen by 61 percent. “South Carolina traditionally lags behind on issues of public health and well-being,” Alton said. “This is an issue where we are leading the way.”
Despite the progress, South Carolina still has the 13th highest teen birth rate in the nation, and nearly 4,300 teens gave birth in the state last year. Some of the highest rates are in rural areas, and that is a central reason for the Road Show, in which Campaign team members will appear at 75 events in 31 counties.
“I’m a big believer that we can’t prevent teen pregnancy statewide by sitting in an office in Columbia,” Alton said. “That means letting [people statewide] know about the amazing progress we’ve made but also letting them know there’s a lot more work to do.”
The Campaign team will appear at events aimed at teens, at parents, and at other adults. “Most people understand that this is an issue they should pay attention to,” Alton said. “Too often, though, we don’t go to step two, which is making sure that people know they can do something about it.”
He hopes to see that change in May. “One of the things this road show allows us to do is sit and have conversations with people in their communities about what they can do locally to address this issue.”
The Campaign team focuses on giving adults the tools they need to talk to teens about sex and pregnancy, a conversation Alton sees as a necessity. “It’s 2016. The fact is, people are talking about it,” he said. “It’s not a question of if they’re going to learn about sex right now, it’s a question of who the messenger is going to be. I think all of us would prefer mom and dad or a trained health professional or a doctor or a faith leader be the messenger, not Snapchat.”
While Alton and his team encourage parents to talk to their children about sex and pregnancy, he adds that “As caring adults, we need to recognize, though, that sometimes young people don’t necessarily run to mom and dad for these difficult conversations. It truly does take a village in this context to raise young people.”
That means giving the proper tools for informed conversation to guidance counselors, coaches, faith leaders, and others who play a role in the lives of teens. It also means encouraging entire communities to provide internships and summer jobs to give teens opportunities. “One of the things this road show allows us to do is sit and have conversations with people in their communities about what they can do locally to address this issue,” Alton said. “It requires all of us to pay attention.”
The Road Show kicks off May 4, and a list of events statewide is available here. The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy also supplies free online resources for parents, teens, and other adults. Click here for more information.