Reality Check: What Do Teens Really Want?

Katie Staudt, Intern
 
A project to prevent teen pregnancy was recently launched by the City of Baltimore’s Health Department called “Know What U Want.” From the campaign’s title, it appears to be an admirable undertaking. After all, no one wants teen pregnancy nor does anyone object to empowering teens to know what they want in life. However, on their website, teens will only discover how to choose their method of birth control and learn how to “get the goods” (which teens are assured can done without their parents’ knowledge). Is this really empowering teens to know what they want? Well, not according to social science.
Such a campaign presupposes that what teens want is sex and the only thing left to “know” is what method of birth control is best for them. But the reality is sex is not ultimately what teens want. While it is true that many teens engage in sex (nearly 48% of all high schoolers), a majority realize afterward that sex and hooking up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, research shows that 91% of girls who “hook up” have regrets due to guilt or feeling used, and 80% wish it never happened. Even MTV reports that nearly 2/3 of teens wish they had waited to have sex.
Of course, this same data could be used to suggest we need to help that small percentage of teens who don’t have regrets know what birth control they want. But, the reality is teens who begin sexual activity at a young age are likely to deal with permanent negative physical, psychological, social and economic consequences that they might not immediately realize. A Heritage research report shows that sexually active teens have a higher probability of becoming infected by STDs, fall into depression, and eventually have unstable marriages and live in poverty.
Even with all these facts, it might seem worthwhile to give teens “what they want” to at least prevent teen pregnancy. But, the reality is a number of studies have shown that contraceptives do not prevent teen pregnancy. In fact, a recent study conducted by  a professor from Duke and Yale found that“programs that increase access to contraception are found to decrease teen pregnancies in the short run but increase teen pregnancies in the long run.”
Teens, like all humans, want happiness and fulfillment. Even though some seek happiness in sex, they haven’t found it there. So if we really are trying to empower teens to know what they want, perhaps we should begin by explaining how we are designed as humans as well as the negative consequences when we go against our design and positive outcomes when we live in line with it. It also might not be a bad idea to promote healthy families and worshipbecause, in reality (see hereand here), that’s where the most happiness is found.
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