There was an omission in my last article about the effectiveness of the media on teen pregnancy rates. Bill Ryerson, one of the world’s most effective population activists, kindly reminded me of my mistake in leaving out an important example of the use of modern media.
“East Los High” is an online TV series aimed at Hispanic teens. All the episodes of the 2013 season and several episodes for 2014 are available at www.hulu.com. Be prepared for an advertising blitz, and for an introduction to a very different lifestyle.
When I was in high school I knew that guns, shootings, teen pregnancies and drugs all existed, but I had no personal experience. Times have changed. I watched several episodes of “ELH” with real apprehension because of the problems these adolescents endure—and the excellent quality of the acting.
In between the violence and sex are some sweet but instructive scenes. Jacob is a football hero who discusses with his dad whether he should join the military or not. His father recommends that he take advantage of a sports scholarship and be the first in his family to go to college.
Jessie is a very good student who doesn’t date and belongs to the “Virgin Club”. She is a junior and so is amazed when Jacob, a senior, asks if she will help him study chemistry. The study session turns out to be more when he becomes amorous. She protests, pushes him away and says that she is still a virgin and needs more time.
“I totally understand if you think I’m lame and you don’t want to hang out no more,” she says.
“Hey, I don’t think your lame” Jacob replies.
In another episode a dancer announces to the dance team’s head that she is pregnant. “I thought that you were on the pill” was the angry reply.
“I am. Unless I forgot to take it.”
“Stupid, the pill won’t work if you don’t take it every day. Why didn’t you take the Plan B pills I gave you?”
“Do you have any on you?”
“It’s too late, pendeja. You have to take the pill within 3 days of having sex.”
Then comes reality testing about the future of the dancer—and of the pregnancy. Her boyfriend seems happy to become a dad, and invites the young woman to stay at his house after her aunt kicked her out. When he introduces the mother-to-be to his mother, the older woman tells him to throw her out.
“I can’t. She’s going to move in. She’s having my baby.”
“Again?” was the baby’s grandmother’s reply. Apparently this older man had caused more than the one unplanned pregnancy.
Has this program lowered teen pregnancy rates, reduced drug use or caused any other improvements? it is too soon to tell. However, ELH is under the watchful eyes of two communication professors, Drs. Arvind Singhal (University of Texas, El Paso) and Helen Wang (University of Buffalo). They have been using several techniques to measure the program’s impact. The results are very encouraging.
As expected, ELH is most popular in areas with the most Hispanics. Many people watched the show more than once because of the high appeal of the stories. This appeal has spread to Facebook, whose interactive properties engaged the audience even more. Furthermore, over 25,000 people have linked from one the show’s sites to reproductive health service providers in Los Angeles alone.
Closer to home, the teen pregnancy rate in Colorado has taken a nosedive. It has shot down 40% from what it was just 5 years ago. This decrease is important because, on the average, children born to teen moms don’t succeed as well in life. Furthermore, a teen mother’s chances of completing education are lessened and adolescent pregnancies are expensive to society. From a financial standpoint, every dollar spent on family planning saves $3.74 in Medicaid costs for maternal and newborn care. The human savings are much greater, of course.
Title X (ten) is a government program that works. It provides reproductive health services to women of any age who otherwise would have difficulty affording them. Here in La Plata and Archuleta Counties clinics offer women disease screening and their choice of family planning.
One of the reasons for the recent success of Title X clinics is that they are able to provide Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC), such as IUDs and Nexplanon®. Do you remember when you were a teen, how forgetful you were? LARCs remove the risk of forgetting to take “the pill”—the problem of the dancer in East Los High.
© Richard Grossman MD, 2014