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It is that time of year, when children head back to school.  Some are going to school for the first time, while others are moving up the educational ladder toward graduation from high school or college.  However, one of every three students (1.3 million annually) fails to graduate from high school in this country and the crisis is even more severe among minority students.   Only about half of African-American students graduate from high school and only 10 percent of minority students who enroll in college will graduate.  While there are many reasons for these appalling statistics, an important factor that is often overlooked is too-early pregnancy and parenthood.  Fully 30 percent of teen girls cite pregnancy or parenthood as a key reason for dropping out of high school; rates are even higher for African-Americans.

Teen pregnancy/parenthood and school dropout are closely associated.  Only 40 percent of teen moms finish high school and the crisis extends to postsecondary institutions as well.  Less than two percent of teen mom finish college by age 30 and 61 percent of women who have children after enrolling in community college fail to finish their degree—a rate 65 percent high than the rate for those who did have children.

Compounding the issue even further are the lasting consequences for the next generation.  Too-early pregnancy and parenthood not only makes it more difficult to complete education, career, and other life goals, but it also affects the future prospects of the children of teen parents.  Research shows that children of teen mothers start school at a disadvantage and fare worse than those born to older parents.  A child’s chance of growing up in poverty is nine times greater if the parents were unmarried when the child was born, and if the mother did not receive a high school diploma than if none of these circumstances are present.

Clearly, the lesson to be learned for this school year is not to get pregnant.  Parents should use this time of preparation for the school year to talk to their children about healthy relationships, abstinence first and protection against pregnancy if sexual activity is already taking place.  This is not the time for parents to shy away from their role as teacher.  Children want to hear from their parents on issues of sex and relationships.  Parents must step up and do the right thing before they join the 2.6 million grandparents who are raising grandchildren in America today.  If a parent needs information on what to say, go to TheNationalCampaign.Org.

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