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CULTURE DIGEST: Teen birth rate rises 1st time in 14 years; a family friendly ‘Netflix’?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The birth rate among teenagers in the United States rose in 2006 for the first time since 1991 along with the number of births to unmarried women, according to preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rise comes in a culture where Jamie Lynn Spears, the star of a hit Nickelodeon children’s show, is expecting a baby at age 16, popular clothing stores like Abercrombie & Fitch are promoting shirts with messages like “Make Love, Not Babies,” and “Awkward Mornings Beat Boring Nights,” and funding for abstinence education in public schools is under fire.

CDC figures indicate the birth rate for girls aged 15-19 rose 3 percent, from 40.5 live births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2005 to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. The CDC said this follows a 14-year downward trend in which the teen birth rate fell by 34 percent from its all-time peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991.

“It’s way too early to know if this is the start of a new trend,” Stephanie Ventura, head of the Reproductive Statistics Branch at the CDC, said in a news release in December. “But given the long-term progress we’ve witnessed, this change is notable.”

Unmarried childbearing reached a record high in 2006, the statistics show, with the total number of births to unmarried women rising nearly 8 percent to more than 1.6 million.

“This represents a 20 percent increase from 2002, when the recent upswing in non-marital births began,” the CDC said. “The biggest jump was among unmarried women aged 25-29, among whom there was a 10 percent increase between 2005 and 2006.”

Hollywood actresses like Halle Berry and Angelina Jolie appear to have no qualms about bearing children out of wedlock, and they’re praised as glamorous, trend-setting stars in the modern culture.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said those who want their children to buck the cultural trends and comprehend the sacredness of sex and childbearing should be careful to emphasize the goal of abstinence.

“Encouraging ‘abstinence until college’ rather than ‘abstinence until marriage’ will not help the millions of children being born to and raised by single mothers — who are nearly five times as likely to live in poverty as those raised by their married mother and father,” Perkins wrote in his Washington Update Dec. 19.

Chris Leland, executive director of college student ministries at Focus on the Family, said Abercrombie’s sexually suggestive T-shirts and advertisements are meant to change perceptions of what’s morally right and wrong.

“They are not out to sell clothes, even though they are a business,” Leland told Family News in Focus. “They’re about something bigger, which is creating sort of a cultural identity for kids. It’s not surprising they would continue to push the edge of not only the advertising envelope, but sort of an ideological envelope as well.”

NEW COMPANY OFFERS FAMILY FRIENDLY DVD RENTALS — Parents who sit on the edges of their seats worrying which movie scenes they’ll need to protect their children from next can rest easy with a new company that offers family friendly DVD rentals in a manner similar to Netflix and Blockbuster.

“Ninety percent of all titles offered by these big-name companies would be considered morally objectionable to the majority of mainstream American families,” Steve Thomas of Faith and Family Flix said in a news release, adding that he believes people want a change from the onslaught of degrading entertainment.

Faith and Family Flix “is part of a silent revolution that is sweeping across the country,” the company said in a news release Dec. 18, and FFF wants to be the main resource center for those searching for moral entertainment.

Movies like “Bella” and the newly animated movie “Ten Commandments” will be among FFF’s future new releases, the company said, and the current list of titles features classics like “Ben Hur,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “My Fair Lady” along with popular television shows and more recent films.

A person who signs up for FFF can rent as many DVDs as he wants with no late fees or due dates, and DVD shipping is free both ways. Plans start at $9.99, and the most popular plan allows people to rent up to three DVDs at a time for $19.99 a month.

DVDs are shipped within 24 hours of an order placement, and after a movie is watched, the renter can place it in a prepaid envelope and mail it back to FFF. For more information, visit www.faithandfamilyflix.com.

POKER GAINS POPULARITY ON CAMPUSES — A Harvard professor who has advocated looser attitudes toward marijuana, which he admits to smoking, now is pushing an agenda to teach poker to middle school children as a means of improving their critical thinking skills.

“I’m thinking of kids who are into their video games, but instead of Halo-3 and World of Warcraft, we lead them into a game environment that has real intellectual depth to it and feeds their curiosity rather than snuffs it out,” Charles Nesson, a Harvard Law School professor, told The New York Times.

Nesson’s students at Harvard recently formed an organization called the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society, and they’re working to establish chapters at college campuses nationwide, The Times said Dec. 12.

“I tell my students all the time that if you want to do something with your spare time, you can do a whole lot worse than play poker,” Nesson said, noting that the probability-based game requires risk assessment, situational analysis and a gift for reading people.

Andrew Woods, the poker society’s executive director, said the group believes strongly in promoting the cognitive skills that aren’t taught effectively in most public schools, and the article said the society doesn’t wager money during play.

“We concluded that we’d be doing a disservice to the next generation of students if we didn’t help promote this idea of poker as an educational tool,” Woods, 24, told The Times.

Valerie Lorenz, founder of the Forensic Center on Compulsive Gambling, suggested a game for building thinking skills that wouldn’t put students at risk for a destructive addiction.

“We don’t teach kids how to drink in order to learn about alcoholism,” Lorenz told Family News in Focus. “But we’re teaching kids how to gamble in order to learn odds and probabilities or cognitive skills? Teach them how to play chess.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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