TACOMA, Wash. - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been counting babies and their mothers, and has found the number of teen births dropped almost one percent in Washington from 2009 to 2010, from 7.8 percent to 7 percent. The decrease coincides with a national survey from Planned Parenthood
in which most parents - 82 percent - say they are discussing sexuality with their kids.
Washington's teen birth rate of 7 percent is significantly lower than the national rate of 9.3 percent. Elisa Stodden, a community outreach educator with Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest
, says helping parents and teens to be better communicators is part of the reason for the drop.
"Talking to teens, talking to parents, we know that parents play a super important role in teens making decisions about sexuality. Giving parents tools to keep those conversations open with their kids is a huge leverage point."
In Washington, Planned Parenthoood
also trains some high school students to do the talking, through peer counseling programs. Stodden works with the peer counselors in Pierce County and says their classmates learn from their confidence and non-judgmental approach.
"They think, 'Whoa! If this person can talk about it, maybe I can talk about this more easily, or maybe I can have a more open conversation with my parent or a future partner.' The whole tone of openness really changes young people - that's the consistent feedback we get."
She adds that the discussions do not revolve around sex. Instead, they deal with topics like decision-making, communication and healthy relationships. Some Washington schools also are part of a Teen Outreach Program (TOP) that focuses specifically on young people at risk - not only for unintended pregnancy but for dropping out of school.
Another factor in the declining teen birth rate in Washington could be the State Legislature's passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2007. Among other points, it requires that sex education for teens be comprehensive rather than abstinence-only.
The CDC birth statistics are at www.cdc.gov