Rates of Teen Pregnancy, STDs Lower in Young Adults Who Participated in Childhood Program Designed to Boost Self-Esteem, Study Shows
A program designed to help young children get good grades and avoid drug use also had the effect of lowering teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates, even though sex education was not a component of the program, the AP/Seattle Times reports (Andersen, AP/Seattle Times, 5/13). Researchers from the University of Washington's Social Development Research Group evaluated the effects of a program that trained elementary school teachers and parents of elementary school children on how to raise children's self-esteem and take a positive role in their educational development (Fox, Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/14). The study, published in today's issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, evaluated 350 elementary school students, their parents and teachers from 18 inner-city Seattle schools who participated in the Seattle Social Development Project between 1981 and 1986. Program participants were evaluated against a control group of children who did not take part in the program. The study states that 38% of young women who had been enrolled in the program became pregnant by the age of 21, compared to 56% of young women not enrolled in the program. Twenty-three percent of program participants gave birth, compared to 40% of women not enrolled in the program (AP/Seattle Times, 5/13). Among African Americans who participated in the program, 7% had an STD by the age of 21, compared to 34% of African Americans in the control group (Lonczak et al., Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 5/14). Program participants also had fewer sexual partners and were more likely to have used a condom during last sexual intercourse (AP/Seattle Times, 5/13).
Impact on Sex Ed
The study findings "could influence the nationwide political debate over sex education in schools," the AP/Nando Times reports. J. David Hawkins, a University of Washington social work professor and a study co-author, said that although the researchers "never predicted" such a decline in teen pregnancy as a result of the program, the decrease demonstrates the effect that early childhood programs can have on later behaviors. "These results fit with our theory that if children become bonded to school and committed to achieving in school during the elementary grades, they are less likely to risk that bond by engaging in behavior that puts their future success at risk," Hawkins said (Andersen, AP/Nando Times, 5/13). Advocates for comprehensive sex education agreed, stating that programs designed to boost children's interest in school can help lower risky behavior. "We spend an awful lot of time in this country arguing about the shape, stripe and content of sex education classes. Meanwhile, one of the things this study is showing is it may not be the sex education programs at all that are having this impact," Bill Albert, a spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said. But Tamara Kreinin, CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, said that children still need to receive comprehensive sex education in school. "It would be very simplistic to say that kids need more attention ... and not address the fact [that] they are surrounded by sexual messages and that they are sexual beings," she said ( AP/Miami Herald, 5/14). The study authors do not address what types of sex education the students may have had between the time that they participated in the program and the follow-up interviews at age 21 (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 5/14).