5 Ways Girls Inc. is Helping Young Women Rise Above Teen Pregnancy

Thankfully, teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. have fallen in recent years — at least 42% since 1990. Not a bad start, but unfortunately, we still rank the highest among developed nations when it comes to young women under the age of 20 giving birth. This means that there are still millions of teen mothers struggling to balance motherhood, school and jobs, not to mention the infinite stresses that run rampant in any young adult’s life. Even those of us who aren’t adolescent parents ourselves feel the impact that teen pregnancy has on the national economy, which makes it clear that continuing to combat this — declining, yes, but still persistent — trend is in everyone’s best interest.

How shall we go about it?

Abstinence? Perhaps a good idea, but maybe a little too idealistic for the real world. By the time May rolls around each school year and the weather starts heating up, it only takes a quick glance into the hallway to realize that abstinence is not really the first thing on my students’ minds. And they’re only in middle school.

Contraception? Now we may be on to something, but it’s definitely controversial, and it still doesn’t really address the many different factors that contribute to teen pregnancy.

Enter Girls Inc. I stumbled upon a description of this organization’s efforts — specifically the branch that operates in Memphis, TN — while researching for another post, and was blown away by their action plan for reducing pregnancy among teen girls. Here are my top 5 reasons as to why they’ve got it right and others around the nation should be emulating them.

1. Filling a Void

There is, without a doubt, a lack of explicit instruction available for young girls regarding healthy female images and roles in relationships. This is dangerous for young women developing a sense of self. Think about it: if someone tells you something repeatedly, you’ll eventually start to believe it. On the flip side, however, if someone doesn’t tell you something — you’re strong, smart, and beautiful just the way you are, for example — you won’t believe it.

Not only that, but you’ll take your own steps and look to your immediate surroundings to fill in the gaps. Obviously, girls (and boys) learn from those around them. They turn to their friends, mothers, aunts, older sisters…basically every female they come in contact with on a regular basis to figure out how they should act and what their role is in their immediate surroundings. Unfortunately, they’re not always given the most ideal representation, and can unwittingly open themselves up to low-self esteem, exploitation, abusive relationships and risky behaviors that lead to teen pregnancy.

Consequently, it’s super important for programs like Girls Inc. to exist — especially in areas with high risk factors for teenage girls. Memphis seems like an ideal starting point, and this organization has been active there for more than 60 years. According to a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, there are apparently 2,131 teen births per year in Memphis. Additionally, Memphis City Schools’ graduation rate is 60% with 4,109 drops outs — a significant number, especially since 30% of girls who drop out of high school cite pregnancy as the main factor.

Girls Inc. has attempted to remedy this by focusing primarily on helping girls ages 6-18 become confident, independent young women in addition to teaching them about sexual health. As you’ll see on the next page, they seem to have a pretty comprehensive way of going about it.

2. Scope

Girls Inc. seems to understand that teen pregnancy doesn’t exist in a bubble, so neither should the solution. In addition to their programs that center on the how and why of not getting pregnant at a young age, they focus on five other areas aimed at building teen girls into confident, capable, well-rounded young women.

Their “Leadership/Community Action” program teaches the girls about community service and highlights the influence of female leaders in their area. “Friendly Peersuasion” tackles the difficult topics of substance abuse and managing the stress that accompanies peer pressure. It also gives participants a chance to act as positive role models for younger girls. “Media Literacy” seems an essential program to helping girls build a positive self image, especially with the rise of the internet and social media. Girls in this program have the opportunity to critically evaluate the image of women that is presented in the media, rip it apart, and develop their own, healthier version.

“Operation SMART” increases the girls’ exposure to science, technology, engineering and math fields, and their remaining programs include self defense, financial literacy (starting at age 6! Hooray!), and athletics. They don’t seem to have left much out. I’m not sure there’s any doubt that such a wide range of programming provides the teens Girls Inc. serves with the emotional and practical support they need to make good life choices and steer clear of many more risk factors than just teen pregnancy.

3. Consistency

Girls Inc. also recognizes the importance of attacking an issue before it morphs into a problem. As a result, their pregnancy prevention programs aren’t just aimed at teens or pre-teens, but start with age appropriate curriculum in elementary school and follow students through middle and high school years. Their culminating activity for high schoolers involves a retreat called “Baby, Think it over,” at which the girls are given lifelike dolls and realistic financial dilemmas to solve as part of a simulation of motherhood.

4. Celebration

Hard work and personal growth deserve recognition, and Girls Inc. seems to have a number of events aimed at doing just that. When I browsed their website, I found pictures and programs from luncheons and awards ceremonies at which girls, mentors and staff were honored for either their progress or dedication. There was also mention of a mother-daughter summit, an event that apparently celebrates the importance of a healthy mother-daughter relationship as well as provides opportunities for them to learn together about self-esteem and bullying issues.

Not to leave out positive male role models, they also seem to hold an annual Red and White Ball. Participants get to dress up and simply have fun being a girl, but are also involved in conversations about positive relationships with males and participate in a father-daughter dance.

5. Collaboration

The more the merrier is definitely true when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy. Girls Inc., Memphis has recognized that and has collaborated with a number of other organizations active in the Memphis area. The result is Memphis Teen Vision, or MemTV, a collaboration of 25 different community, school and local government organizations focused on bringing down pregnancy rates among teenage girls.

Through MemTV, Girls Inc. is able to keep Memphis City Schools informed of the impact their program has on reducing teen pregnancy as well as collaborate with other organizations working towards the same purpose. This allows them to secure support for their programs within the school district — including within the school day, which is extremely hard to do given already jam-packed curricula — as well as gain access to students’ academic data in an effort to better support the girls they serve. Additionally, Memphis City Schools also chose Girls Inc. to participate in the school district’s launch of Education Beyond the Classroom, opening up school sponsored programs to the greater community.

So obviously a comprehensive, impressive effort, but is it working? I was unable to find data showing teen pregnancy rates and/or their effect on dropout rates specifically for Memphis City Schools (please post in comments if you know of their existence), but did dig up a few other promising tidbits. According to statistics from the State of Tennessee Department of Health, births among African American girls ages 10-19 in Shelby county (which includes Memphis) fell from 58.1% to 50% between 2009 and 2010.

Maybe a small decline, but a decline all the same. Additionally, in an evaluation carried out by the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis, girls who participated in Girls Inc. during the course of an academic year made improvements in multiple areas. Girls Inc. students scored higher on standardized state tests, reported greater emotional resilience, improved body image and overall had a lower rate of sexual activity when compared with MCS students in general.

To me, this is extremely encouraging. So many factors are at work when it comes to teen pregnancy. Sex education, contraception and abstinence promotion obviously play a role, but it’s refreshing and commendable that Girls Inc. has developed programming that treats the whole girl, not just her uterus. If more organizations focus on nurturing young women emotionally, connecting them with role models, giving them tools to be confident, independent thinkers, and setting them up for academic and financial success, I’m certain that more young women will be in a position to take control of their own lives and teen pregnancy rates will continue to fall.

Do you know of any organizations fighting the good fight (and winning) against teen pregnancy? Leave your comments below.


Related Stories:

LA County Schools, Planned Parenthood Team Up to Battle Teen Pregnancy

Big Decline in Teenage Pregnancy Rate Thanks to Contraception

Teen Pregnancy is “Contagious,” Study Says

Photo Credit: lusi via stock.xchng


Jenny B.
Jenny B2 years ago

This is a very useful blog, thanks for this great help. Have big thanks on that. maternity clothes

Laura Saxon
.4 years ago

Lovely article. Thanks for sharing.

Stephen B.
Stephen B4 years ago

To Jane B.: I wrote my first post before seeing yours.

Yes, there are men who see women as a warm place to "drop a load" (to use your terminology). I, myself, as a man agree that this behavior was reprehensible. I believe that males who joke "I don't have any children (that I know about)" have no right to call themselves "men." I didn't put myself in a situation where I could cause a pregnancy (even using birth control) until I was with a woman with whom I was willing to spend my life. As mentioned in my first post, there is still a child living with "Mom." What I didn't mention is that I am still her father, and play that role in her life. I may be in a minority, but I'm not alone.

Look at my comments about the "Parent's program" at BSD. Although the majority of the class was mothers, there were several fathers who graduated from the program. IOW: "Comprehensive Sex Education" does not preclude responsible behavior (for either gender).

When my wife was pregnant with our third child, her OB/Gyn suggested that she shouldn't have any more children - pregnancy was harmfully stressful for her. Due to this recommendation relating to HER health, I had outpatient surgery to prevent further pregnancies. I'm not looking for kudos, I'm just trying to make my point. You seem to believe that men don't care about he possible consequences of intercourse (and we view women as objects to relieve our "sexual tension"). I will not deny that there are boys (regardless of

Stephen B.
Stephen B4 years ago

I don't know about other school districts in Oregon, but I know that the Beaverton School District has a program in place to assist high-school parents. There is a facility that provides daycare while students are taking core-curriculum classes. I believe that the daycare is actually a classroom in itself, with instruction on proper baby care.

The facility houses 3 separate programs (my son was in the School of Science and Technology) so I had little knowledge of the "Parents Program" (I'm not even sure of the name) until the graduation ceremony. I was reduced to tears seeing all the high school graduates in their black cap and gowns, accompanied by several toddlers with white caps and gowns. I was especially pleased to see that the graduates of the "Parents Program" included several fathers (it was 1/3rd male).

I have two children who have graduated from BSD high schools (and a third who is currently in 8th grade). Oregon schools teach comprehensive sex education ("private parts" in Kindergarten, "where babies come from" in 5th or 6th grade. and "how to not have babies and protect yourself from STD's in High School). Comprehensive education helps, but mistakes happen (none of my children were "planned" but I cannot imagine life without them). BSD acknowledges this, and is willing to help the mothers (and fathers) who want to do the right thing in raising their children.

Mark McKendrick
Mark McKendrick5 years ago

@ Jane B & Jordan B: You two seem like you were made for each other. Talk about about extremes...?

Leia P.
Leia P.5 years ago

good for them

Jordan B.
Jordan B.5 years ago

In response to Jane B. Okay now you really are a fun piece of work lets get down to education for a second. Catholics are christians and if you are wanting to address the whole mass of the faith then it is the judeo-christian faith(or just christian)
Now that we have that out of the way I can digress to my second point. As much as you have the right to go on your tirade about your seemingly Gender empowering views It is also the right of others to indulge in their own faith regardless of your own bigoted opinion.
Thirdly not all guys are trashy despite what the lady with the short cropped hair at the feminist lounge says, or in how deep a timbre she says it.
I "personally" have a wife we have no children and I do a Job that growing up I swore I would never do for numerous reasons. At this job I have watched a coworker and friend Die before my very eyes. The reason I do this job is to give my wife and I a good start at a new life together. Oh and I've been pressing her for us to adopt her niece who's in a bad situation because it keeps me up at night thinking about how the kids life is.
So in conclusion yeah you are totally right about everything seems like you are on top of it all...
Oh and to everyone else I'm for a more complete sex-ed program Teen pregnancy can and is a life changer often in a bad way.

Lynn Mason
Lynn Mason5 years ago

Abstinence only education is ridiculous. Even if you're married, you are still at risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Marriage does not make those problems magically go away. Every person deserves the right to know how to have safe sex.

teresa W.
teresa W.5 years ago

Not all Christians teach hate. I believe in education and then contraception if all else fails. The problem is a lot of these young girls want a baby and intentionally don't use contraceptives. My niece included. She had her first at 17 and had no idea what she was getting into. Now she has three and has basically abandoned them to their grandmother because she says " she" is more important. It's sad really.
But you can't blame Christianity and God for this.And this site is all about rights and equality. Yet I see a lot of HATE directed towards Christians. Don't we have a right to believe in what we do to? I have gay friends and I I love them and I think they should be allowed to be married. I believe animals should be treated better. And I don't think you should hate anyone because of their race, sexual preference, or religion.

Sharon Beth Long
Sharon Beth Long5 years ago

Many organizations that work with youth realize that teen pregnancy is not the cause of poverty but a symptom. It is important for girls to know that they can have a professional future so they do not believe that a baby is the only way to feel grown up or important.
However, a lot of the motivation behind teen pregnancy has to do with love. When girls are asked why they had a baby they say so that it is that they will have someone who loves them unconditionally. (Mothers do that too but mothers can be critical). Many of these girls do not have fathers in their lives and do not see an enduring marriage or any long term heterosexual relationship as a realistic possibility (see Jane B's comment above).