172,000, is about the number of babies that were born to young women ages 15 to 19 in the United States in 2019 according to the CDC. Additionally, teen fatherhood occurred at a rate of 10 births per 1,000 young men ages 15-19.

These statistics demonstrate there is room for more education around topics of sexual health, pregnancy prevention, and forming healthy relationships. Historically, we know pregnancy rates are higher among youth who are experiencing homelessness, who identify as LGBTQ+, or who are involved in the child welfare system and/or juvenile justice system. National trends also indicate higher birth rates among Hispanic teens and African American teens. 

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania is focusing on empowering teens to pursue positive outcomes based on their values and dreams. Programs are designed to highlight strengths naturally occurring in teens and provide spaces for teens to connect their skills with needs in their community. 

Using the evidence-based Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP), the BGCWPA Healthy Lifestyles program provides teens with opportunities to explore topics such as self-care, consent, communication, and advocacy to encourage teens to have healthy relationships with themselves and with others. BGCWPA programming also promotes positive development through interactive group discussions and community service learning. BGCWPA has served 1000 youth ages 13-18 since September 2019.

In response to the pandemic, BGCWPA TOP instructors were able to shift programming to a virtual format to continue to serve our teens while meeting the needs of our partners. One teacher noted that, especially during COVID, “the students are missing connections and a social space.”  Even though it’s virtual, TOP is helping to “fill a need” that there isn’t time for in a typical school week.  One of our Career Works’ members, who also participates in TOP, noted that “learning about your career and talking about your feelings is a good balance to help you figure out what you want in life.  Career Works is all about finding out about your career and TOP Club helps you talk about life and makes it less stressful.” 

Overall, the work around teen pregnancy prevention is important because it helps teens navigate the physical, social, and emotional challenges of adolescence. Comprehensive education and positive behavior provides a model to form healthy relationships and can help change the lives of teens everywhere. The best part is that everyone can be a part of this work: parents, teachers, community leaders, clergy, siblings, mentors, etc. 

If you are looking for more ways to support teens in building healthy relationships, consider these items:

  1. Engage ALL teens in comprehensive sex health education regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.
  2. Host community conversations to spread awareness and offer teens a safe space to ask questions.
  3. Provide access to resources in all settings that cater to youth development (churches, community centers, afterschool programs, etc.).
  4. Download the Office of Population’s Affairs (OPA) toolkit to learn how your organization can engage teens in ways that utilize and enhance their strengths.
  5. Follow BGCWPA programming at @BGCWPA or visit www.bgcwpa.org to learn more about how TOP can be offered at your community-based site or school district. 

By, Ke’Amber Ford, Manager of Healthy Lifestyles, Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania