By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer
Health officials fear the growing problem of underage sex and teen pregnancy will continue unless parents are more involved with sex education and abstinence is taught to more public schools’ students.
A townhall meeting about underage sex prevention is scheduled from 6:30- 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Memorial Building in Portales.
Terry Teti, executive director of Community Resources Inc. in Portales, said the purpose of the event is to increase awareness of the underage sex problem and the increasing number of teens getting pregnant. The numbers don’t lie — the Roosevelt County teen pregnancy rate, which represents the average number of babies born per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, has risen from 54.8 in 1999 to 67.6 in 2003, according to The State Center for Health Statistics of the New Mexico Department of Health.
“Parents need to wake up,” Teti said. “Parents need to talk openly with their kids on the issue. Some parents think their kids are not sexually active. Their children are learning about sex through their peers and they are receiving misinformation.”
Teti and Carol Morgan, nurse manager for the public health office in Portales, taught the “Worth the Wait,” curriculum designed to deal with teens in public schools and warned students of the consequences of having unprotected sex. The curriculum was taught to fifth and sixth-graders in Roosevelt County during the 2005-06 school year.
Teti said it’s an abstinence only program and not a sexual education program. She said the program was taught to 264 students and it was taught separately to girls and boys.
“We taught them refusal skills and about self-esteem,” Teti said.
Teti said Portales health officials found out about sixth-graders having “hook-up” parties and that young teens are under the impression that oral sex is not sex, not realizing the danger of getting sexually-transmitted diseases through the mouth. She said there were reports of sixth-graders contracting oral herpes.
Roosevelt County’s rank amongst the 33 counties in teen birth rates has been steadily increasing for the last 10 years, according to NMDH officials. Roosevelt County went from the 23rd-ranked county in the years 1995 to 1999 to No. 10 in 2003.
The rate hit a high in Roosevelt County in 2000 with a birth rate of 80.5.
During a school board meeting in June seeking approval to teach the curriculum at Lindsey Elementary, Morgan said three 13-year-old girls came to the health office for a pregnancy test in one day in 2004.
“We’ve got to be able to change the mindset,” Morgan said during the school board meeting. “I had a mother come in to test her 13-year-old and her 16-year-old daughters. She was worried that they were pregnant and when she found out the 16-year-old wasn’t, she wanted a fertility test done on her to find out why not.”
Morgan said children are raised in a setting where their mother was pregnant in her teens and it is considered acceptable.
Teti said the Roosevelt County Health Council received $28,170 from federal funding from Title V for instructional equipment and other costs associated with the “Worth the Wait” abstinence program.
There were other townhall meetings throughout the spring including one on Africanized bees and one on tobacco awareness.