There has been a lot of talk lately about the failure of 20-somethings to launch as demonstrated by a recent article in the New York Times magazine. Buoyed by mounting evidence of delayed marriage and childbearing, more years of education, and higher reliance on parents for economic support and shelter, some social scientists have theorized that the transition to adulthood in the U.S. now typically extends into the mid twenties. Further, there is recent evidence from neuroscientists that children’s brains are not fully matured until age 25, and that the prefrontal cortex which is involved emotional control and higher order thinking is the last region of the brain to mature. Adolescence now is often defined as extending from age 10 to 25 years.
But waiting until age 25 to transition to adulthood is a luxury that many youth in Baltimore city cannot afford. One key marker of adulthood is becoming a parent. In Baltimore approximately 1700 girls ages 15-19 in Baltimore city experience a birth in a single year—a rate of 66.9 per 1000 girls overall and 78.2 for African American girls (2006 statistics). Adjusting for the 16 percent of girls who have repeat births, these statistics translate into a cumulative probability that almost one fifth of girls in Baltimore city will have a baby before they are 20 and more than one quarter of African American girls will become young mothers.
Recently a coalition of private and public organizations in Baltimore developed a strategic plan to reduce teen births in Baltimore city that recommends a number of strategies that have proven effective elsewhere. These include the use of evidence-based health education curricula in all middle and high schools, the expansion of clinical services in the schools, and the provision of long-acting reversible contraceptives to teenagers who want them. Currently health education is quite limited in the schools, as are clinical services. Family planning clinics currently cannot afford to make long acting contraception available.
It will not take rocket science to bring about reductions in teen births in the city of Baltimore. It takes investments in proven remedies that will lead to fewer teens becoming parents before they are ready—cognitively, emotionally and economically—to raise the next generation. Now why is that audacious?
Henig, Robin Marantz “What Is It About 20-Somethings? The New York Times Magazine, August 22, 2010
Baltimore City Health Status Report 2008
Strategic Plan to Reduce Teen Births in Baltimore City 2010 Healthy Teen Network, Baltimore. Maryland
McNeely Clea and Blanchard Jayne “Explaining the Teen Years: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development” The Center for Adolescent Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland