June 10, 2005
By Melissa G. Pardue
Experienced parents will tell you that if you can get your kids
through the teen years, they likely will be just fine as adults.
That's because teens face many of the temptations adults do but
without the experience to appreciate the consequences of their
But what if we could somehow transfer some of that experience to
teens? What if we could equip them with the information, courage
and responsibility they need to say no to sex, smoking, drinking
and drug abuse?
It's a question that's received a fair amount of study, and we've
begun to find some approaches that work. One is to take on the
issue directly with teens through what are known as
abstinence-education programs. Among the most effective of these,
according to a recent study by Dr. Robert Lerner published in the
Institute for Youth Development's peer-reviewed journal
Adolescent & Family Health, is the Best Friends
Lerner's study found that students who took part in Best Friends
Looked at another way, girls who took part in Best Friends
One would think that such numbers would cause lawmakers to
rethink how government deals with destructive teen behavior. One
would be wrong.
Despite overwhelming evidence that kids are receptive to an
abstinence-only approach and that increases in abstinence-only
education are largely responsible for a drop of 8 percentage points
(from 54 percent to 46 percent) since 1991 in the number of
high-schoolers who have had sex, the government continues to spend
$12 on "safe sex" and contraception promotion for every $1 it
spends on abstinence.
This doesn't stop groups such as the Sexuality Information and
Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) and Advocates for
Youth from attempting to eliminate abstinence programs and replace
them with "comprehensive" sex education. These "comprehensive"
programs are often misleadingly labeled "abstinence-plus" and
falsely claim to forge a middle ground between abstinence and "safe
sex" education. In reality, these programs are virtually all "plus"
and no abstinence.
Analysis of "comprehensive" sex-ed programs reveals that these
curricula contain little if any meaningful abstinence information.
On average, these curricula devote about 4 percent of their content
to abstinence and the rest to such enlightening activities as
"condom races," in which teams of teens race to see who can get a
condom on a cucumber the fastest.
They explore "alternatives" to intercourse, such as sensual
feeding, showering together and other activities that seem highly
unlikely to discourage kids from having sex. In fact, out of 942
total pages of curriculum text reviewed from nine different
"comprehensive" sex-ed curricula, not a single sentence
was found urging teens to abstain from sexual activity until they
had graduated from high school. The overwhelming focus of these
curricula (28 percent of the curriculum content) is devoted to
promoting contraception among teens.
Sadly, these programs have friends in high places. Opponents in
Congress continue to attempt to introduce legislation that would
abolish federal abstinence education assistance. A proposal by Sen.
Max Baucus (D-Mont.) would take federal funds devoted to teaching
abstinence and turn them over to state public health bureaucracies
to spend as they wish.
Given the fact that such bureaucracies, through the encouragement
of federal funding, have been wedded to the "safe sex" approach for
decades and fiercely oppose teaching abstinence, such a proposal
would effectively abolish federal abstinence-education programs.
Meanwhile, federal support for "safe sex" and contraception
promotion would continue, unchecked.
Opponents of abstinence education will continue to try to eliminate
it from America's schools. But they have got a tough pitch to make:
Parents overwhelmingly support the abstinence message. Students
want to hear it. The evidence of abstinence programs' effectiveness
is increasing. And the evaluation of the Best Friends program
provides one more argument in favor of abstinence education.
Melissa Pardue is the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow in Social
Welfare Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared on Knight-Ridder Tribune
Experienced parents will tell you that if you can get your kids through the teen years, they likely will be just fine as adults. That's because teens face many of the temptations adults do but without the experience to appreciate the consequences of their decisions.
Melissa G. Pardue
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