- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

A group of researchers and scholars are calling for male mentors and educators to get involved with black and Hispanic teen-age boys to help them make better decisions and avoid contributing to unwed pregnancies.

Nearly 40 percent of black and Hispanic teen-age boys reported having unprotected sex, according to a recent study.

"[These boys] need to connect with caring, responsible adult men who will be there for them during the rough times," said George Garrow Jr., executive director of the National Organization of Concerned Black Men.

The study, released in November by the Washington-based Urban Institute, a social policy research organization, looked at the sexual health of young men ages 15 to 19. It found that in 1995, 23 percent of the white teens studied had unprotected sex within the past year and the number was almost twice that for black and Hispanic teens.

Though the resurgence of the AIDS epidemic among young homosexual men has recently made the news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that a full 33 percent of new HIV infections among men each year come from unprotected heterosexual sex.

Yesterday a panel of researchers and scholars convened at the Urban Institute to discuss the study and its implications.

Robert Lerman, director of the Center on Labor and Social Policy at the Urban Institute, said that the high number of young men engaging in unprotected sex was resulting in too many young fathers who are unable to support the families they have created.

"The families are fragile," he said, and many young men flee them because they are unable to face the financial responsibilities.

Freya Sonenstein, director of the Population Studies Center at the Urban Institute, said society must make sure young men never find themselves in that situation by ensuring they get quality sexual and reproductive health education.

Christina Hoff Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys" and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, suggested a different kind of education: the "good old-fashioned" kind.

Mrs. Sommers said boys need to receive an education college or technical training that will allow them to succeed financially in life. This kind of education will help them avoid problems that will inhibit their success, such as young fatherhood, and empower them to be good fathers when their time comes.

The problem is a high dropout rate, which she said is 31 percent right now among Hispanic boys. The boys who stay in school are consistently bested by girls, resulting in a group of pessimistic, uninvolved boys who naturally gravitate to high-risk behaviors.

Mr. Garrow added that these boys often exhibit behavioral problems, so many young female teachers tend to ignore them.

Mrs. Sommers believes these high-risk boys should be shifted to single-sex classrooms, where young, athletic male teachers lead the boys in structured, no-nonsense learning.

She said the approach has worked in Britain.

"Should we follow the British example?" she asked. "I don´t think we have a choice. If we don´t do this … it´s probably going to be the minority boys who pay the highest price."

Mr. Garrow stressed the need for male role models in teen-age boys´ lives particularly those coming from low-income or single-parent families.

"That´s the crux of the problem," he said. "You need men who will commit to the long-term, difficult challenges of younger guys´ lives."

He said that older men need to help teen-age boys develop a vision of a successful future and commit themselves to making that happen. Sex as a teen-ager does not fit into that equation.

"We want old parents," he said, referring to parents in their 30s. "We want parents who are old, mature, over their neuroses, and able to be involved in the lives of their kids."

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