A recent segment on NBC’s The Today Show focused on what parents could do to help combat teens’ boredom and keep them out of trouble during summer vacation. Judith Sachs, editorial director of ParentingTeensNetwork, appeared on the show to discuss “cures” for the problem. Volunteering, traveling with family, learning a new language and forming a book club were among the activities she suggested teens get involved in.
Studies have shown that teens with too much free time in the summer are more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes than those who are engaged in structured activities. Surprisingly, sexual activity was not mentioned during the segment.
As I watched the show, I reflected back on a conversation I had many years ago with a Newark, N.J., school nurse. I had just started studying the dynamics of teen pregnancy and the nurse shared with me how she saw more pregnancies in September than in any other month. Some sociologists refer to this as the “summer effect.”
I was pretty confident her experience from so many years ago was no longer the case. Surely by now, schools, libraries, and summer camp directors had tackled the problems associated with bored urban youth—or so I thought.
Recently, a colleague called my attention to a new study on adolescent pregnancy. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the teenage birth rate in the United States increased by three percent from 2005 to 2006, making it the first increase in 15 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the rise occurred primarily among non-Hispanic, black teens ages 15-19.
It would have been great if the Today producers took this fact into consideration and found a way to emphasize the need for summer programs for this group of young people. I noticed the teens who were interviewed for the segment were privileged, white, and lived in the suburbs.
Going forward, it’s important that educators in urban schools not only step up their efforts to provide quality sexuality education, but also connect young people to summer programs that will occupy their time and develop their talents. Perhaps we need to develop a lesson plan that addresses teen boredom during the long, hot summer? If you have other ideas, please let us know at ANSWER.