A few years ago, Debbie Allen’s teenage daughter ran away from her Tucson home. The 18-year-old returned home pregnant and addicted to drugs.
“With her being a runaway and being on drugs, it wasn’t a complete shock when she came and told us she was pregnant,” Allen says. “When she told me her intention was to have her baby, I said you need to get support.”
Fewer teen girls in Arizona are seeking the support needed when about to have a baby. That’s because fewer Arizona teens are having babies, according to recent data.
There were 8,715 teen pregnancies in Arizona 2013, more than a third fewer than there were 10 years prior, according to Arizona Department of Health Services statistics.
And since 2007, the percentage of pregnant teens has seen a steep decline. From 2012 to 2013, there was a 10 percent drop in pregnancy.
Nationally, the number of teen girls having babies in the United States dropped to a historic low in 2014, new data released last week from the National Center for Health Statistics states. Teen pregnancy among girls ages 15 to 19 had steadily declined since 1991, plunging 61 percent in more than 20 years.
A combination of abstinence education and contraception has led to a behavior shift among teens, says Bill Albert, spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
That’s right — MTV may have helped cure teen pregnancy.
“I would credit part of the decline . . . in teen pregnancy to MTV,” Albert says. “The shows have been watched by millions and millions of young people over the years. For my way of thinking, this is sex education for the 21st century.”
One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research even credited 16 and Pregnant with a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months since the show premiered.
"You only need to spend 15 minutes watching these shows to know there is nothing glamorous about this lifestyle at all," Albert says. “Viewers say these shows are far more sobering than salacious."
In addition to facing increased risk of poor birthing outcomes, teen moms face educational, social, and financial hardships. Arizonans spent $240 million on teen childbearing services in 2010, according to the Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services.
“It’s difficult to manage the stresses of parenting at any age," Allen says. " [But] being a young parent before your brain is fully developed and trying to manage that stress with the uncertainty of income, they have a lot of challenges . . . to overcome."
For Allen, it may not have been shocking that her troubled teen daughter became pregnant. But she still was surprised that it happened to her family.
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Even before the pregnancy, Allen worked as an outreach director for Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services and brought up her daughter to be a strong believer in birth control.
After deciding to keep her baby, Allen's daughter saw a case manager at Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services and sought treatment for her drug abuse. Today, the girl is drug free and raising a healthy, happy child, Allen says.
“After being a runaway and feeling like she disappointed her family, she felt really empowered. That was huge for her health self esteem,” Allen says. “It was probably the best thing for her. It probably saved her life.”