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Teen pregnancy rate rising for first time in 15 years

Kate Adelstein | , M.D. | , N.P. | , Hope Ricciotti | 2/11/2009, 4:46 a.m.

After a 15-year downward trend in the teen pregnancy rate, The Dimock Center in Roxbury has recently noticed an increase in teenage pregnancies. While Boston’s overall rate of teen pregnancy is lower than the national average, the teen pregnancy rate in Roxbury is almost twice as high as the citywide rate.

But Roxbury is not alone. The growing number of pregnant teens in Roxbury reflects a national trend, with the birth rate among U.S. teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 rising 3 percent in 2006. This was the first increase in the rate of births to teen moms in 18 years.

While parenting is one of life’s most rewarding and fulfilling experiences, it is also a tremendous challenge, even for those who are well established with adequate social and financial supports. The pleasures of parenting still exist for teen mothers, but the difficulties can be much harder for a teenager who may not have access to the same resources as an adult.

Exceptions do exist, but data indicate that the lives of children born to teen moms are more likely to be filled with hardship. For example, children of teens are more likely to be born prematurely or to be small at birth, which can lead to numerous medical problems as the child grows. The children of teens are also more likely to be neglected, live in poverty, drop out of school and use drugs. Although there are some great success stories, it should be our aim, as a community, to decrease the rate of teen pregnancy.

The question then becomes: What can we do to combat teen pregnancy? For parents, the evidence is compelling. Talk to your teenagers — not just about birth control and sex, but about their daily lives. Talk to them in the car, over dinner or before bed. The more you and your teen communicate, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors, including unprotected sex.

There is no evidence that providing information about birth control will encourage your teen to become sexually active. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Teens who have more information about sex and contraception appear to delay having sex longer than those who do not.

It can be very difficult to address these topics with your teens, so The Dimock Center also offers a community-based option for teaching teenagers about birth control in the hope of preventing teen pregnancies. Most teenage pregnancies are unintended. It is estimated that up to three-quarters of teen pregnancies are unplanned, and half of those pregnancies result from improper use of contraception.

It is our goal, as a health center, to offer a safe environment where teens can ask questions and get answers about their bodies, sex and contraception. You and your teen may feel comfortable meeting together with the Dimock pediatric group.

Teens can also meet confidentially with the pediatric providers, who can be reached at 617-442-8800 x1260, and they can come to The Dimock Teen Center, where Dimock health care providers offer expert counseling, contraception, teen groups, education and more. Teens may access confidential care from The Dimock Teen Clinic, which can be reached at 617-442-8800 x1257.

To learn more about the Dimock Teen Initiatives and events, call The Dimock Center at the above mentioned phone number or you can join the “Dimock Teen Clinic” group on Facebook, which is frequently updated with news and events.

Together, we can use knowledge and education to bring down Roxbury’s teen pregnancy rate and help create the brightest futures possible for our children.

Dr. Hope Ricciotti is the director of obstetrics and gynecology for The Dimock Center in Roxbury. Kate Adelstein is a nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology who coordinates the center’s Teen Initiative.