Rights, Respect, Responsibility

The month of May is used as a platform to promote National Teen Pregnancy Prevention. The United States has the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and teen births in the western industrialized world and teen pregnancy costs the United States at least $7 billion annually. Every year, an estimated 750,000 teenagers will get pregnant and more than two-thirds of all teenagers who have a child will not graduate with a high school degree. Although some of these statistics seem a bit startling, I was pleased to read that the teen birth rates have dropped by almost one third since the beginning of the 1990s. With pregnancy prevention programs and more understanding and teaching about safe teen sex, this number will hopefully drop even more within the near future. An organization that I read a lot about that has been a huge supporter for teens over the past thirty-one years is called “Advocates for Youth”; it is a phenomenal example of an effective prevention program.

Established in 1980, Advocates for Youth has dominated efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Advocates believes it can best serve the field by boldly campaigning for a more positive and realistic approach to adolescent sexual health and for almost three decades, the organization has worked tirelessly to promote effective  programs and policies in the United States and in low and middle income countries. In its earlier years of operation, this association created Life Planning Education, a 1983 ground-breaking sex education program that put sexuality into a life-skills/youth development context,  created the Support Center for School-based Health Care in 1984 and helped launch the National Association for School-Based Health Care, and was one of the first mainstream organizations to recognize the potential dangers of HIV for adolescents, sponsoring a groundbreaking national conference on AIDS and adolescents among other HIV prevention initiatives as early as 1987.

Some of their other great initiatives include condom availability clearinghouse and adolescent pregnancy prevention clearinghouse. Advocates for Youth also operate the International Clearinghouse on Adolescent Fertility, which disseminates information in English, Spanish, and French on adolescent fertility and childbearing worldwide. Finally, the Advocates’ Public Education and Resource Center contains a unique collection of over 10,000 peer-reviewed articles and monographs relating to adolescent reproductive and sexual health. Their headquarters are located in Washington DC but Advocates for Youth works in collaboration with local and state organizations on many of their projects. A few examples of their partner organizations are Cultural Advocacy & Mobilization initiatives, the Anti-Homophobia/Transphobia project, and Young Women of Color initiative; among these organizations, they are present in almost twenty-five different states and the number are continuing to grow.

Advocates for Youth follow a simple yet highly effective motto that is called the “3Rs”. They are RIGHTS, RESPECT, and RESPONSIBILITY; I thought it was very interesting to read how these three core values became synonymous with the campaign. Regularly since 1998, Advocates for Youth and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte sponsor an annual study tour to France, Germany, and the Netherlands to explore why adolescent sexual health outcomes are so much more positive in the three European countries than in the United States. The study participants have found that this trilogy of values supports a social philosophy regarding adolescent sexual health in those three specific countries. Each of these nations has an unwritten social contract with young people: “We’ll respect your right to act responsibly, giving you the tools you need to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and in turn you will protect your health and that of your partner.” This was something that I was unaware of, but it makes a lot of sense when you step back and take a look at the whole picture. There are many contributing factors of why teens in the US have such high pregnancy rates, but statistics show that the numbers are declining, and as more organizations such as “Advocates for Youth” instill the same type of beliefs among not only the students, but the teachers, then one day we will live in a society that has taken the full responsibility of providing young people with the tools they need to safeguard their sexual health. We cannot guarantee that all young people will listen, but taking it one step at a time can help spread awareness and improve the lives of many potential teen parents. To learn more about this specific organization, visit their website: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/index.php

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