TULSA — A new national report says Oklahoma has the second-highest rate of births among 15- to 19-year-olds in the country.
The report released Friday by the National Center for Health Statistics based on 2012 birth rates also says the state ranks third in births among those aged 15 to 17 and first for those aged 18 to 19.
The Tulsa World reported Saturday that the number of births to Oklahoma teens in 2013 was 5,233, a decrease of 545 from the year before and 2,348 fewer than five years ago.
Sharon Rodine, director of youth initiatives for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said although Oklahoma is reducing its rate, other states are reducing their rates faster and more effectively.
“Other states have invested resources in addressing this issue from a wide array of perspectives,” she told the newspaper.
The rate of teenage births in Oklahoma in 2012 was 47.3 per 1,000 women and girls, second only to New Mexico, which had 47.5. The national average was 29.4.
Rodine said it’s important for Oklahoma to get teenagers involved in the campaigns to reduce teen pregnancy.
“Young people can be the best prevention messengers to their peers,” she said.
High teen birth rates are related to increased high school dropout rates. The workforce is also affected because teenagers who give birth are often unprepared for jobs that increasingly demand a college education or extra training, she said.
“They have a shrinking range of employment opportunities,” Rodine said.
Children of teen mothers are less likely to have resources and educational opportunities in early childhood to set them on the path for success, she said.
These children instead get on the path that leads to more teenage pregnancies, she said
“You can almost write the life script for too many Oklahoma children at that point,” she said.
Kim Schutz, director of the Tulsa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, called the report’s findings “very upsetting and shocking.”
“We’re moving in the wrong direction, and it’s because this isn’t on anyone’s radar,” she said.
Schutz said polling from the campaign has shown that 90 percent of Tulsans support comprehensive sex education in middle and high schools. Tulsa Public Schools has started to implement sex education, and Union and Broken Arrow schools also have pilot programs.
The key is for parents and trusted adults to educate children about their bodies and the consequences of sexual activity, not in one big talk but throughout their childhood, she said.
“You arm them with knowledge,” she said. “That’s how they protect themselves.”
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