- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

A host of risk factors affect youth in Washington, D.C. In my capacity as co-founder of the Urban Life Training and Reality Assessment Program, I get to work with middle and high school youth who are exposed to these realities: In Washington, 34 percent of high school students have used alcohol within the last month, 13 percent are currently smoking and 37 percent report having used marijuana. Nationally, 20 percent of adolescents have sex before his or her 15th birthday. However, in D.C., 55 percent of 9th grade students report having had sex. By some estimates, 1 in 20 adults in D.C. are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

When news is reported regarding any of the five related risk behaviors of drinking alcohol, smoking, drug use, sexual activity and violence, reporters should take the opportunity to educate the public more about the issues underlying juvenile health issues. And since sexual activity is a linked risk behavior, helping teens remain abstinent from sex before marriage should be seen as a prominent health issue. It will improve their health not only by not becoming pregnant but in a host of ways. The media can help the public to see the link between these related risk behaviors, and also by pointing out the link between the declining two-parent family and these risk behaviors.

It is a fact that youth who abstain from sex are also much less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs or commit acts of violence. According to “Father Facts,” edited by Wade Horn, “A study of neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio, found that the rate of out-of-wedlock births in a neighborhood was the single strongest predictor of six measures of childhood risk including low birth weight rate, infant death rate, teen birth rate, juvenile delinquency rate, and school reading performance. Also,“Teens from single-parent or stepparent homes are more likely to commit a school crime (possess, use or distribute alcohol or drugs; possess a weapon; assault a teacher, administrator or another student) than teens from intact homes.”

Abstinence from sex outside marriage is the best place to start for character education and violence prevention. We must break the negative cycle of outside-of-marriage births. Nonprofit organizations such as ULTRA Teen Choice are already giving this positive message to youth. And most encouraging, the youths themselves are becoming peer counselors and helping younger peers choose abstinence.

“Father Facts” also tells us “Studies reveal that even in high-crime inner-city neighborhoods, well over 90 percent of children from safe, stable, two-parent homes do not become delinquents.” When family structure is stabilized, the related youth health issues of drinking, smoking, drug use, sexual activity outside of marriage, and violence will also be greatly reduced. The media need to ask many more “Why” questions and do all they can to offer insightful information on helping to promote stable, lasting two-parent families.

ULTRA Teen Choice has been successful in educating youth in Washington, D.C., about the importance of sexual abstinence before marriage. Many young people are committing to abstinence until marriage. The media can help by reporting more on this positive trend.

ULTRA Teen Choice uses classroom media presentations, where young people learn the reality of teens and sex, including the facts about HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and that married couples have the best sex. They learn condoms aren’t 100 percent “safe” for any diseases or for pregnancy prevention and do not protect at all against many sexually transmitted diseases. Youths also get to think about what real love is, and how making positive decisions will affect their future family.

RICHARD URBAN

Director of ULTRA Teen Choice. On the Web at www.ultrateenchoice.org, e-mail to rurban@ultrateenchoice.org.

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