Here's one development the candidates can applaud across party lines: a declining birth rate among American teenagers.
For too many years, the United States has sadly led the rest of the industrialized world in this statistical column. The rate at which teenage girls here have babies is comparable to that in economically struggling former Iron-Curtain countries.
That's changing, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (see story, page 1), and for a variety of reasons. But what stands out is an evolution of attitudes among the young themselves.
Increasing numbers of teens are choosing to wait, preferably until marriage, before having intimate sexual relationships. Clearly, organized campaigns that endorse abstinence are having an impact. But it speaks well of teens that they're listening, and in many cases deciding it's only sensible to avoid the responsibilities of parenthood until they've acquired an education and more earning power.
Self-interest is a strong argument, but so is respect for the interests of others - friends, potential offspring, families, and the wider society. Teens who make the choice for abstinence are taking a stand that deserves solid support. And they're doing this despite the entertainment industry's ongoing portrayal of extramarital sex as commonplace and OK.
The decline in teen pregnancies also indicates that those who are sexually active are more inclined to use birth control methods. This, too, is a step toward greater responsibility, though a less decisive and effective one than abstinence.
The lower birth-rate trend is heartening, though it's only a beginning. The current US rate of 49.6 births per 1,000 girls age 15 to 19 still represents billions in added social-service and medical costs, to say nothing of detoured lives.
The dialogue with teens has to continue. It's encouraging that more teens say they're having useful talks with their parents about sexual relationships. Politicians can, and will, chime in, but parents count most.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society