TEEN PREGNANCY AND PARENTHOOD. Communities that are trying to do something. Media campaign urges boys to act responsibly
Portland, Maine — The girls get pregnant. The boys get lost.
More often than not, that's the name of the game. After all, as the stereotypical - and cynical - saying goes, ``Boys will be boys.''
But some boys are concerned about preventing teen-age pregnancy.
``Most kids are not responsible enough to have a child yet,'' comments Nathaniel Hayes, a 12-year-old from Portland, Maine, a state where 1 out of 8 babies is born to a teen-ager.
Thirteen-year-old Jed Morfit agrees: ``There is a definite problem with pregnancy in teens, and somebody's got to help out. There's not enough people or government sponsors to get the job done.''
So far, most attention - of necessity - is directed toward the female kids - the mothers. ``Most things are focused on the girls,'' says Nat, ``but boys have a very big responsibility.''
Nat and Jed are participants in a media campaign called Males Preventing Pregnancy (MPP). It's designed to attack teen-age pregnancy by sensitizing sexually active teen-age boys to the demands of fatherhood and by teaching them methods of pregnancy prevention.
``The focus of this campaign is prevention,'' says MPP's founder, Carol Schiller. She says that a good prevention campaign can keep people from having to ``go through the very difficult decision of whether or not to have a birth or to have an abortion or to have an adoption process take place.''
For MPP, prevention means abstinence or the use of condoms. ``This program teaches kids a lesson - not to have sex too early,'' says Nat. ``The male's responsibility is to use a condom or just not do it at all,'' comments Jed.
The idea for Males Preventing Pregnancy started in 1985 when Mrs. Schiller saw an advertisement placed by the American Express Company in Time magazine. The ad invited proposals for American Express's ``Project Hometown America,'' geared to getting citizens to solve local problems with innovative solutions.
``I found myself walking around the town, talking to a lot of people, trying to find out what the problems of Portland were,'' Schiller explains. ``And I found out from the United Way that teen-age pregnancy ranked as the fifth most pressing community problem.
``So with that I started to talk with different people who worked with pregnant teen-agers. Maine ranked sixth in the nation in single, white, teen births. I started to hear that a lot of people were very dedicated and working with adolescents. But due to low wages, short staff help, and high caseloads, they were unable to work with young men.
``I took that as the innovative solution. Let's focus on boys, and let's heighten community awareness through a media campaign. I thought the best way to do that would be through visuals - through posters, through TV commercials, through pamphlets, through video documentary.''
Schiller's proposal was accepted by American Express in February 1986. At that point she had raised $20,000 from local groups and received a matching grant from American Express. In March, she moved into another research phase and interviewed 85 young men.
``Almost all of the boys when we started off felt birth control was a 50-50 responsibility,'' she says, ``but when we asked them what percent of that was their responsibility, they said 99 percent was the girls' [responsibility]! So we found there were lots of double standards that a lot of young men still operate on.''
Now, with continued funding from American Express and a number of local agencies and businesses, Males Preventing Pregnancy embraces four television spots with audio portions like ``I don't care if she's pregnant. It's not my problem.'' And ``Hey, birth control is up to the girl.''
``This program has been healthy for my attitude,'' says 19-year-old Mark Tracy, another campaign participant, ``because coming into it, I knew a lot less than I do now.''