MEDIA CONTACT: Susan Feinberg
FAU Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing Professor Conducts Groundbreaking Research on Teen Pregnancy
BOCA RATON, FL (June 19, 2007) – Although teenage pregnancy rates in Florida are declining, thousands of teens in this state have unintended, often unwanted pregnancies every year. Josie Weiss, assistant professor at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University’s Treasure Coast campus, recently conducted a groundbreaking grounded theory study to examine how and why adolescents are making sexual choices, particularly about pregnancy prevention.
Weiss interviewed 20 incarcerated females, ages 14-18, at VisionQuest, an Okeechobee-based national intervention program for troubled teens. The study, which was funded by FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, revealed that in response to being bombarded by seductive messages from the media and their peers and partners, the participants considered sexual activity to be normal for teens. Although many of the high-risk teens reported that parents and teachers encouraged them to make safe sexual choices, the sexually explicit messages were far more powerful in shaping their attitudes.
The participants belonged to social groups where casual sexual activity was the norm, and they believed that “everybody’s doing it.” They often had unplanned and unprotected sex. Many of the incarcerated adolescents regretted the sexual choices they had made, wishing they had waited before becoming sexually active. However, once they made their sexual debut, they often believed that returning to abstinence would be difficult.
Weiss hopes that the study will be a wake-up call for parents, who don’t always understand their children’s attitudes about sex. She believes that with so many sexually explicit messages bombarding kids, the need for discussion and education about the risks and health concerns of sex has become increasingly important.
“My goal is to encourage parents to talk to their children about sex, and for kids to make safe sexual choices,” said Weiss. “If we can hear and understand the perspectives of adolescents, we will be better equipped to help them make safe healthy choices that can impact them for a lifetime.”
Abstinence-based sex education, which encourages teenagers to “just say no” to sex, is heavily funded at the state and federal levels in the U.S. “My concern is that this kind of sex education does not address the reality or meet the needs of the many teenagers who are choosing not to be abstinent,” said Weiss.
Although the pregnancy rates have declined for 15-19 year olds in the U.S., about 750,000 American teens become pregnant every year, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Research indicates that nearly half of students in 9th to 12th grades have engaged in sexual intercourse. More than 60 % of high school seniors are sexually active, which represents an increase in the last four years. Of particular concern, sexual activity among teens 14 years old and younger has increased; one in seven of them become pregnant before reaching age 15
Between 1991 and 2004, there were more than 354,000 teen births in Florida, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The teen birth rate in Florida declined 38% between 1991 and 2004.
In 2004, teen pregnancy cost the U.S. government more than $9 billion and Florida taxpayers more than $480 million, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reported. Teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of high school and live in poverty, and their children often experience health and developmental problems. Sons of teen mothers are more likely to go to prison, and daughters of teen mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing is committed to nurturing the wholeness of persons and environment through caring.