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Cultural Differences Influence Teen Pregnancy Prevention Efforts

Report Released Today Examines Issue of Teen Pregnancy Among California's Diverse Ethnic Communities  

SACRAMENTO, May 30, 2002 — Demonstrating what health officials have long suspected to be true, a research report issued today by the Get Real About Teen Pregnancy campaign identified significant variations in how California's diverse ethnic populations view and address teenage pregnancy and prevention programs.

The report entitled “Voices of California: A Multicultural Perspective on Teen Pregnancy” was compiled over a one-year period and included findings from more than a dozen focus groups across the state, community roundtables, interviews with legislators, healthcare providers and faith community leaders and a comprehensive compilation of the latest statistics and data specific to the various ethnic populations.

“What we know about teenage pregnancy prevention emphasizes the importance of viewing the issue from a cultural as well as a health and community development perspective,” noted Mr. Angel L. Martinez, Director of Instructional Design and Training for INVOCA/dignidad and a long time adolescent health consultant. “Cultural considerations play a large role in how parents, community leaders and teens deal with information about adolescent pregnancy prevention.”

The state of California recently released the state's teen birth rate statistics for 2000, lauding a four percent decline since the year before. However, births to African American and Latina teens are disproportionately much higher than other groups. According to the state's figures, while the overall birthrate in California decreased to an average of 48 births to 1,000 girls, Latinas gave birth at a rate of 90 per 1,000 teens, and African American teens gave birth at a rate of almost 60 per 1,000 teens.

“Clearly we must also address this issue as it relates specifically to young people of color,” said Martinez. “The one-size-fits-all approach will not work if we are going to be successful in helping all teens prevent undesired pregnancy.”

Cultural nuances may include such issues as behavior “patterning” where young people choose a path similar to the one they grew up in because it is a familiar way of life. Health officials note that many teens of color that have babies at a young age were themselves born to teen mothers.

“We must respect family history, while recognizing that parents — across all cultures — want their children to have successful futures, which is often described as 'better' than their own life,” observed Carmen Rita Nevarez, MD, MPH, vice president and medical director for the Public Health Institute. She pointed out that adolescents growing up in a community where teen parenting is common need focused and culturally-relevant intervention programs to help them embrace other options for their future besides having babies at a young age.

The report noted:

  • While 56% of California adults surveyed feel that teenage pregnancy is a serious problem, 80% of Latino adults and 77% of African American adults view teenage pregnancy as a serious problem.

  • African American adults view the lack of “a sense of community” and loss of predominantly black neighborhoods where everyone looks after each other's children as important factors in the rate of teen pregnancy among black teens.

  • African American adults place a high value on the impact of church and social involvement in helping teens make responsible decisions about their lives, including unplanned pregnancy prevention.

  • Early marriage and parenting among young teens (13-15 years of age) is a desirable cultural norm among some Southeast Asian populations. The adults surveyed noted that this presents some cultural confusion for parents and teens fairly new to the U.S. They noted that the “no sex until marriage” message seems to reinforce this cultural norm, while other messages from the cultural mainstream strongly encourage teens to “stay in school” and discourage young teens having babies. For parents struggling to understand American culture and teens straddling two cultures, this presents a problem.

  • Many Asian parents identify the loss of family dignity and interruption of the teen parents’ education as primary concerns resulting from unplanned pregnancy, while African American and Latino adults cite concern about the child's future and decline of the teen parents' future potential as a primary concern.

  • Teens of Japanese and Chinese descent tend to be less likely to experience unplanned pregnancy than their peers, while Filipino and Southeast Asian teens are more likely to experience teen pregnancy than other Asian American Pacific Islander teens.

  • Latino adults place a high value on reinforcing cultural responsibility and role modeling in the effort to reduce teen pregnancy. Many identified role modeling for young males as a primary focus for helping teens prevent pregnancy.

  • Latino parents surveyed agreed that they do not want their children to become parents at a young age. However, they acknowledge that they tend not to discuss sex or contraception with their teenagers.

  • Latino adults also tend to welcome the babies born to teen parents into their families and community, often showering the young mother with attention and affection after the baby is born. They noted this may send young teens a “mixed message” about the cultural acceptability of teen parenting, however they do not want to “punish” the baby by withholding this inclusion from its parents.

“California has a lot to be proud of in the effort to reduce teenage pregnancy,” said Dawn Wilcox, Get Real About Teen Pregnancy campaign director. “But the reality is, the 'easy stuff' has been done. We’ve witnessed the success of school-based education programs, mentoring, and aggressive media campaigns. Now is the time to take a more specific, tailored approach to teen pregnancy prevention in this state.”

The report notes several things that community organizations, schools and parents can do to be culturally specific in this effort:

  • Respected adults in each community, regardless of the level of professional involvement with teens, should be recruited to assist parents and community-based organizations in understanding the impact of teen pregnancy in their community and learn how to help teens avoid unplanned pregnancies and infections.

  • Schools and community-based organizations should make comprehensive sexuality education classes available to adults and teenagers in the primary languages specific to each neighborhood.

  • Same ethnicity healthcare specialists, psychologists, teachers and other officials should be included in workshops and community forums where parents and other adults that work with teens can learn how to help the young people in their community avoid unplanned pregnancy and prevent sexually transmitted infections.

  • “Non-traditional” community partners must be included in the effort to help educate teens about reproductive health and motivate them to make informed decisions about their lives. This means including churches, local media, recreation programs, law enforcement agencies, job training centers, and businesses in the community effort to help teens realize their future potential by preventing unplanned pregnancies.

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The Get Real About Teen Pregnancy Campaign is funded by a grant to Ogilvy Public Relations from The California Wellness Foundation.

About “Get Real”
The “Get Real About Teen Pregnancy” public education campaign is part of a $60-million, 10-year Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative funded by The California Wellness Foundation.

About The California Wellness Foundation
Created in 1992 as an independent, private foundation, The California Wellness Foundation’s mission is to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention.

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