Teen Pregnancy in Dallas

April 29, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Samantha Cangelosi
scangelosi@smu.edu

A week had passed, and there was still no sign of it. She decided to pull out the instructions from the test she took the week before. She noticed, in the smallest font, at the bottom of the page a disclaimer stating that a second line, no matter how slight, can indicate a positive reading.

Not wanting to believe what she saw, she hastily bought 9 other tests. Over and over she saw the double lines on each stick. As the panic rose inside her, she could not deny the fact any longer.

At 17, Sarah Erickson learned she was pregnant.

“When it was confirmed that, in fact, I was pregnant, my whole body went numb and an instant urge to flee came across me,” says the Southern Methodist University senior and mother of a now 4-and-a-half –year-old son.

“High school and pregnancy are not meant to overlap. I could not fully enjoy my senior year because I was pregnant and I could not fully enjoy my pregnancy because I was still in high school,” said Erickson, 22, who attended W.T. White High School.

Teen birth rates in the United States have dropped about 40 percent over the past 20 years, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

But Texas ranks third in the nation, according to a 2009 study by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, with 60.7 percent of teens giving birth between ages 15 to 19.

Mississippi and New Mexico hold the number one and two rankings.

“The Dallas-Fort Worth area typically has the highest rate of teen births,” says Holly Morgan, Director of Media Relations and Communications for Planned Parenthood of North Texas. “There has not been a recent decline.”
More than 27 percent of Dallas teens ages 13 to 17 become pregnant, according to a 2007 report by the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.

Marilyn Morris is the founder of Aim For Success, a Dallas-based non-profit organization that travels throughout the state teaching students and parents about abstinence, drugs, and other issues. It is the largest provider of abstinence-based education in the nation.

She said to always look at abortion rates when talking about teen births. In 2005, Texas was ranked 27 for teenage abortions ages 15 to 19 whereas New York was ranked number one according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“New York teens tend to solve their problems by abortions, but Texas teens do not,” says Morris.

Recently, Texas lawmakers passed a bill requiring expecting mothers to undergo a sonogram if they are considering an abortion that way women can see real-time pictures of the unborn child.

Morris became a teen mother at 17.

“By the early part of my senior year of high school I was pregnant,” says Morris who is now a mother of two grown daughters and a grandmother to five grandchildren.

Morris and Erickson both attribute peer pressure to have sex at a young age as the reason they became pregnant.

“I began having sex at 14 and truly believed that the majority of my peers were doing the same,” says Erickson. “My decision stemmed from a need to be accepted by a group of kids at school.”

Morris and her then boyfriend, now husband of 42 years, were planning on waiting until marriage to have sex, but got laughed at when she told one of her friends.

“She said that was silly because sex was no big deal, everybody does it. And from that point on I kept thinking well why are we waiting?”

Many people believe that sex education in schools can contribute to the decline in teen pregnancy.

“The only things that can make a measurable difference in reducing the rate of unwanted pregnancies is accurate education that’s abstinence-based, and affordable and accessible birth control,” says Morgan.

Morris believes that if someone would have discussed abstinence with her, her decision to have sex at such a young age might have been different.

“We were convinced that if someone would have talked to us when we were kids, we would have listened, but back then-parents and teachers-nobody would talk about this,” says Morris.

Erickson, however, believes that abstinence programs might not have made much of a difference when it came to her decision.

“My high school did not have a safe-sex or abstinence program that I know of, but, honestly, I don’t know if that would have helped,” said Erickson. “I wish that female empowerment and personal respect were emphasized more in school.”

Texas law does not require sex-education to be taught in schools, however if districts do choose to implement a program, they must follow certain mandates.

Erickson says that dropping out of school never crossed her mind when she find out she was pregnant. However, for many students, that is not the case.

The Dallas Independent School District offers a program titled Teen Pregnancy and Parenting Program to help provide education and resources for pregnant teens. Their mission is to help reduce the number of school dropouts due to unplanned pregnancies.

Shelby Miller, an SMU student and mother of a three-year-old boy, was 23 when she and her fiancé found out they were expecting.

“I became pregnant in May of 2007. I had just finished my spring semester at SMU,” says Miller, now 26.

Although Shelby was not a teen mom, she still knows how difficult it is to balance school and raise a child. “I had a 3.8 GPA, and the semester after I found out I was pregnant my grades started slipping.”

Miller says sometimes she waits until her son falls asleep before she can even begin doing her homework.
“Sometimes I am up until three a.m. or later.”

Shelby Miller and her 3-year-old son, Dylan. (Photo by Samantha Cangelosi/Beyond the Bubble)

Miller thinks that maybe having young mothers come in and speak to high school students about the hardships that go along with being a young mother might help with the teen pregnancy issue.

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  1. Teen Pregnancy In Dallas « Samantha Cangelosi on May 9th, 2011 9:33 am

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