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Parents, Education Really do Matter with Teen Pregnancy Prevention

May 5, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Listen up, parents, educators and youth leaders! Science says you really do make a difference in preventing teen pregnancy.

Michael Resnick, director of the University of Minnesota Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center, says that for the last generation of Americans, too many adults have embraced a kind of "cultural mythology" that what adults and parents say and do is no longer important to adolescents.

"Nothing can be further from the truth. What we understand, on the basis of all of the evidence, is that parents are the primary educators and influencers of young people. Youth are watching, they are listening, they crave our attention and they are waiting for the kind of guidance and input that they need to know, in order to learn how to navigate life."

Resnick, a professor of pediatrics and public health, adds that in the past 20 to 30 years, there has been an evolution of scientific understanding about what truly works in teen pregnancy prevention: Beyond parental support, adolescents need to feel connected and engaged at school and in their communities. Having this connectedness, Resnick explains, is critical if they are to complete their education, prepare for success in life and make smart decisions about their future.

"What I would like to see happen with all of our young people is to have every one of them able to say 'I've got so much going on in my life right now, I have so much opportunity and so many wonderful options, that having a child at this point in time - during my adolescence - is not something I want to do.'"

This can be achieved, he says, if all adults involved in young people's lives make a focused, concerted effort to support them - from parents to educators, from community youth programs to religious institutions.

The biggest challenge for adults working in the field, Resnick says, is to not get derailed by policymakers who put ideology before the evidence or by those who want to impose programs, restrictions or policies that are simply not in the interest of children and youth.

"All of us who are working with and on behalf of young people really need to be fearless in our presentation of the evidence and be able to clearly communicate to others, who may not understand young people - may not even like young people - what we know about what works and what our young people need."

After more than a decade of federal dollars and support thrown into "abstinence until marriage" programs that have not stood up under rigorous scientific evaluation, Resnick says, he is encouraged by the current administration's re-engagement with science.

"We see that in the funding and the priorities expressed through the Office of Adolescent Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other initiatives that really demand there be a solid evidence base in order to receive government funding and support."

Examples of evidence-based pregnancy prevention include service learning, youth development, role-playing, mentorship and comprehensive programs that encompass both sex education and abstinence principles.

Resnick delivers the keynote address at 9 a.m. today at the annual conference of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting, held at the Earle Brown Heritage Center, Brooklyn Center, Minn.

Department of Health and Human Services information about evidence-based pregnancy prevention is available at

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN