A measure for our kids

Teenagers are not ready to handle the emotional, physical and social consequences of having sex. In an ideal society, sexual experiences would be reserved for adults. But the reality is that nearly half of public high school students in New York City report that they are sexually active.

Teen sex is a complex issue that many of us would prefer to address in the home. However, the high incidence of teenage pregnancies has prompted measures that help young people deal with the consequences of premature sex.

In New York, 13 city high schools participate in a program that provides students access to prescription contraceptives, upon request. This includes Plan B or the morning-after pill, which prevents pregnancy if taken hours after having unprotected sex. Parents whose children attend these schools can choose to opt them out of the program.

News about this program –known as CATCH– spread like wildfire through social media and raised the question of whether schools should be offering this kind of access.

Despite a recent downward trend, New York still has teen pregnancy rate that is higher than the national average. The Bloomberg administration says it’s trying to prevent more students from dropping out of school and risking their futures because of unwanted pregnancies.

The administration has cause.

More than half of the city’s high school students admit they have never considered how a pregnancy would change their lives. Of the 7,000 city teens under 17 who get pregnant each year, more than 50% don’t finish high school. The majority of them, and the partners with who they may not form a family, are Latino and African American. City data shows that two-thirds of these teenage girls and their children will live a life of poverty.

Critics say the program is an incentive for teens to have sex. However, studies show that giving youths access to birth control doesn’t affect their level of sexual activity. And that criticism incorrectly presumes that the trigger for teen sex is a contraceptive.

The news about CATCH serves as a reminder to parents about the importance of talking to their children about sex and its consequences, before it’s too late. But for youths who for different reasons don’t wait to have sex or don’t use protection, it’s comforting to know from a health and educational perspective that they have access to trained staff and resources.