In our nation, teenage moms are becoming increasingly rare. Thank goodness!

In 2016, the teen birth rate dropped 9% compared to the previous year. In fact, it’s down 67% since 1991, as part of a long-term trend of teens having fewer and fewer babies.

Research suggests these reductions are due to more teens abstaining from sexual activity, and more teens who are sexually active using birth control than in previous years.

This month, BRIDGES is focusing on the importance of reducing those numbers even further. Why is this vital?

Let’s start with the health risks for the babies. Here are a bunch of problems babies face if their moms were pregnant before turning 15 or if they didn’t seek prenatal care (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  • Low birth weight/premature birth
  • Anemia (low iron levels)
  • High blood pressure/pregnancy induced hypertension, PIH (can lead to preeclampsia)
  • A higher rate of infant mortality (death)
  • Possible greater risk of cephalopelvic disproportion (the baby’s head is wider than the pelvic opening)

Another issue is poverty, which is both a cause and consequence of teen pregnancy.

More than 60% of young, unmarried mothers live in households that qualify as being in poverty. One in 4 young mothers will go on a welfare benefit program within three years of their child being born. Being a teen mother also means having less access to educational programs, which ultimately affects their ability to make a decent living later on in life.

Here’s more startling data on major obstacles facing teen parents (according to the Urban Institute):

  • Only 38% of girls who have a child before age 18 get their high school diplomas by 22.
  • Two-thirds of teen mothers who move out of their family home live in poverty, and a similar share receive public benefits in the first year of their child’s life.
  • Seventy-eight percent of children born to teenage mothers who never married and who did not graduate from high school live below the federal poverty level.

As parents, what can be done to prevent teen pregnancy? We already know sexual abstinence and birth control reduce teen birth rates. But there’s more parents can do. Here’s some steps parents can take to influence teens to delay becoming sexually active and encourage those having sex to use contraception carefully (according to National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy):

1) Talk with your children early and often about sex and be specific.

2) Know your children’s friends and their families.

3) Discourage early, frequent and steady dating.

4) Take a stand against your daughter dating a boy significantly older.

5) Know what your kids are watching, listening to and reading.

6) Be clear about your own sexual values.

7) Strive for a relationship that is warm and affectionate—firm in discipline and rich in communication.

So, yes, there’s a lot parents can do to prevent teen pregnancy. After all, as we know well, parents play the most important role in the life of their children.