A British charity is using a "unique" tool to discourage teenagers from having unprotected sex: Toddlers. The organization, Teens and Toddlers, has teenage girls mentor young kids so that the young women can experience the responsibility of parenting firsthand. According to a new government report, the approach works far better than having teen mothers speak in schools about their experiences because teens "actively react against being told what to do." In limited use, the program has proven effective, and now officials are calling for its expansion. Here, a brief guide:
How does Teens and Toddlers work?
The charity gives teenage girls the "opportunity" to babysit a tyke for 20 hours a week. The teens also take classes in parenting, child development, and sex and relationships. The "approach actively brings home the enormity of the responsibility of bringing up a child, fosters emotional development and has been shown to change young people's behavior," reads the government report.
Is teen pregnancy an unusually big issue in Britain?
Yes. Great Britain has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Western Europe with more than 40,000 girls under the age of 18 conceiving annually; that's more than double the rate in France. The number of abortions has also been rising; in 2008, some 5,000 British teenagers had their second abortion. Ten years ago, the government tried to tackle the problem by putting more than $460 million into a program called the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. "Numbers have gone down, but by nowhere near as much as hoped," says Daniel Martin in the Daily Mail.
Does the Teens and Toddlers approach really work?
It seems to. Over a six-year-period, the pregnancy rate for participants in the program was 2.7 percent, while the national average for Britain is 4.1 percent. At the same time, "it's a limited fix for a huge problem," says Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir. We need to confront the "underlying issues" of the teen pregnancy problem and do "more to teach our children about their self worth, more about helping them make smart choices, more to ensure young girls aren't so desperate to find love that they'll do anything to try and get it."
How many young women have participated?
So far, more than 6,000 teens have been involved in the program. Following the positive findings about its effectiveness, government officials are calling for its expansion.
Is there anything else like this out there?
Yes. There's a Los Angeles program, also called Teens & Toddlers, founded by Laura Huxley, the widow of Brave New World author Aldous Huxley. The L.A. group has young men and women work with local daycare centers to give the teens the "direct experience of the enormous responsibility and work parenting involves."
Sources: Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Stir, Children-ourinvestment.org