TTTTT: Truth in Teen Trends in The New York Times

January 31, 2011

Unplanned Pregnancy


To paraphrase actress Sally Field for just a moment: Mike Males doesn't like us. He really, really doesn't like us.


Mr. Males has made a cottage industry of being the nation's lonely protector of the truth regarding teen attitudes and behavior. Mr. Males took his latest adults bad/teens good barb to the august New York Times in the form of an op-ed.

The primary point of the column is spot on. Mr. Males is quite correct in noting that there have been dramatic declines among teens involved in crime, school dropout, and other issues, including teen pregnancy. He properly celebrates that teen pregnancy has declined dramatically and that the teen birth rate is at an all-time recorded low. He is entirely right in noting that this good news is often distorted or buried in hysterical, fact-free news reports about the latest teen crisis de jour.

Right on Mike, preach it.

Truth and Justice Mike goes on to blame The National Campaign (my employer, but don't hold that against the organization) for fanning the flames of misperceptions the media promulgate and hapless adults consume by, in part, fueling a panic about "sexting." Well. Not one to let facts get in the way of a good rant but...

In the op-ed Mr. Males says that The National Campaign "defines receiving any 'sexy messages' by e-mail or cellphone as 'sexting.'" Hmm. The survey Mr. Males refers to--entitled Sex and Tech (PDF) for anyone keeping track--never uses the word sexting. Not once. Nor, by the way, does the corresponding press release (PDF). The report is scrupulously careful in differentiating between, say, teens who say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves--an activity many find worrisome--and more benign activities such as sharing sexually suggestive messages. Moreover, Sex and Tech details findings from young adults (age 20-26), not just teens, and notes that young adults are far more likely than teens to, for example, electronically share nude/semi-nude photos. I guess that didn't fit in Mr. Males' narrative about our proclivity for teen-bashing.

A modest final thought. While we recognize, celebrate, and lift up the amazing strides teens have made in avoiding too-early pregnancy and parenthood--and make no mistake, the credit for this progress goes to teens themselves--shouldn't we also recognize that it is still the case that the rates of teen pregnancy in the United States remain far too high? Despite the fact that the teen birth rate is at an all-time recorded low, it is still the case that 3 in 10 girls get pregnant by age 20 and that rates of teen childbearing in the United States remain way out of step with the rest of the world. Shouldn't we also be concerned that fully seven in ten pregnancies among single women in their twenties are described by women themselves as unplanned? Those are the facts as we know them--not hysteria, fake trends, or anecdotal panic--just the way it is.

Authored by: Bill Albert

Bill Albert is the Chief Program Officer of The National Campaign. As Chief Program Officer, Bill is responsible for overall program planning and development, and for tracking program progress. In addition, Bill provides oversight to the Campaign’s media outreach and communication strategies, as well as the writing, editing, design, and production of Campaign’s numerous publications and materials. In addition, he oversees the Campaign’s popular, award-winning websites, the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the organization’s work with new media, and the Campaign’s marketing efforts.

Before his work with The National Campaign, Bill spent 12 years working in television news, most recently as the Managing Editor at Fox Television News in Washington, DC. His responsibilities included managing the editorial content of two daily news broadcasts, assigning, editing, and writing stories for air, conducting interviews, and overseeing the work of reporters and electronic news gathering crews.

Bill received his degree in Communications at American University and resides in Kensington, Maryland with his wife, Carol. His perfect 21-year-old son, Harrison The Boy Wonder, is a senior at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD to its friends).

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