Teen pregnancy has long been a serious problem in Pittsfield and Berkshire County, and while there have been improvements the teen birth rate is still much higher than the rest of the state. As the Pittsfield School Committee sets out to revamp the city's sex education program it has to be prepared to set aside politics, political correctness, timidity and squeamishness in favor of a realistic approach that may actually turn the tide.
Taconic students Jazmyn Thomas and Angela O'Neil delivered a refreshingly frank message to School Committee members at a recent discussion on the issue of teen pregnancy and sex education. Ms. O'Neil observed that while it is tough for parents and other adults to accept that youth are sexually active, "it is a reality of our generation," and while it is easy enough to come up with any number of reasons for this reality, nothing will change it. The focus has to be placed on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
This means teens need related health information and the facts on forms of contraception. They must be told about abortion and Plan B pills, which while controversial, are legal. Urging abstinence is appropriate, but abstinence-only programs are so unrealistic as to be hazardous, as the organization Advocates for Youth points out. If or when abstinence fails, teens must know their options.
Statistically, teen parents are unlikely to pursue higher education and will suffer for it economically. This puts their children at a disadvantage and sends them down the same path. The best response is a detailed, realistic sex education program in the schools that involves parents as well as the many capable social service groups in the city and Berkshires that can supply the funding, training and knowledge necessary to make it work.