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Motherhood comes too early for many Mississippi teens
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many Mississippi teenagers become mothers long before they are ready to celebrate Mother's Day, leaving many of them with a lifetime of struggle.
Mississippi has the highest teen birthrate of any state in the nation, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Web site, http://www.teenpregnancy.org. In 2003, the last year for which data is available, 65 girls per 1,000 age 15-19 had children, for a total of 6,625 babies born to teenagers.
Family experts with the Mississippi State University Extension Service say the number of teen moms is thousands more than it should be.
“Kids having kids are faced with many challenges,” said Carla Stanford, Extension child and family development area agent working from Pontotoc County. “They lack maturity and resources, can be socially ostracized and feel overwhelmed by their situation, and many are abandoned by family.”
Stanford said teenage moms are more likely to have a second child while still a teenager. Babies born to teen mothers face a variety of health challenges, including low birth weight.
“According to a 2005 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, it costs about $500,000 to raise a child from birth through age 17. This includes housing, food, transportation, health care, child care and education,” Stanford said.
The MSU Extension Service addresses teen pregnancy through educational programs and literature. Marcia McLeod, Greene County Extension 4-H agent, has worked for several years with the seventh graders in her county encouraging them to make wise decisions.
McLeod trained 15 youth to teach about 150 seventh graders each year. They met with the students six times, and taught the curriculum Managing Pressures Before Marriage.
“These sessions covered topics from abstinence to peer pressure,” McLeod said. “It worked very well having the teenagers doing the training and serving as role models for the youth. A lot of times they had to stay and talk to the youth after the program.”
McLeod's message to teenagers is that they are not developmentally, mentally or financially ready to become parents.
“To the girls, respect yourself and your body, because nobody else is going to do it for you. Be assertive enough to say no, and wait until marriage and until you are developed enough and mentally and financially ready to become a parent,” McLeod said.
“To the boys, it doesn't make you more of a man to have sex. It takes more of a man to wait and you show more respect this way,” she said. “Protect yourself from diseases, child support and financial disasters.”