The Lists: Where Mississippi ranks in Teen Pregnancy

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Dedra Nobles was never able to go to prom.

While her friends enjoyed the staple high school dance, Nobles traded in her prom dress for a hospital gown as she prepared to give birth to her first child at the age of 15.

Although this may seem uncommon, Mississippi has a reputation of being ranked highest in teen pregnancies.

In 2011, there were 5,460 pregnant teens under the age of 20 in Mississippi, and 333,746 in the nation.

Although Mississippi is know for this unflattering stereotype, Assistant Professor of Sociology Anne Kinnell said teen pregnancy is actually on the decline in Mississippi.

"Except for women above the age of 30, its actually been going down since the 1990's," said Kinnell. "In fact, a lot of kids are self regulating when it comes to their sexual behavior."

Kinnell said that because of the pressure to have a degree, career, and then marriage in that order, teens are now deciding to wait longer to have sex.

"If you know that you are going to college, if you know that you are going to pursue higher education, you tend to put things off like pregnancy," said Kinnell.

Walking at graduation and going to college was also a plan for Nobles, but peer pressure and an unplanned pregnancy forced her to rearrange her priorities.

"I will always remember about being in the library with a group of girls and everybody would be talking about sex, " said Nobles. "I look back now, and he [her son] is the best thing that has ever happened to me."

Nobles urged teens who are sexually active to learn from her experiences.

"If you are thinking about having sex, wait," said Nobles. "Because it is not what everyone makes it out to be. Wait until it is the right, right moment."

Pregnancy rates in Mississippi may be on the decline, but Mississippi still ranks highest in the nation.

In 2011, 58 percent of high school students in Mississippi said they have had sexual intercourse.

According to Julie Norman, Outreach Coordinator for the Pregnancy Prevention Program through South East Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, the best way to decrease this statistic is through communication and education provided in an abstinence only program.

"Well, our abstinence based program is evidence based, which gives it a lot of credibility," said Norman. "We go into schools, community based programs, and faith based programs and present our curriculum to adolescents ages 11 to 17."

Participants in the program learn abstinence by completing activities in a work book that teach them the proper tools on negotiating abstinence with a partner. These activities include role playing, and incorporating the child's parents.

According to Norman, after completing the program, teens should be able to successfully navigate peer pressure.

"Our hope is, after they have completed our program, that their intentions will be different in terms of that they will know they have information," said Norman. "They'll know that they need to stand up to peer pressure."

Sanford Johnson, Executive Director of Outreach for Mississippi First in Jackson also agreed that communication and education are key, but through Sex Education programs.

"Sex Education is one of those things that is needed in order to reduce our teen birth rates, in order to reduce our STD rates, and that will not only boost our economy, but will improve the academic performance in a lot of our kids, " said Johnson.

Johnson said that Mississippi First encourages teens to not have sex, but provide the proper information for those who already do.

"If students have already decided not to wait, they have information as well," said Johnson. "We want to make sure that they are reducing the frequency of sex, the number of partners, and are using condoms correctly and consistently."

Both programs agreed that whichever stance one may take, the change starts with an honest and open parent-to-child dialogue in the home.

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