Anti-pregnancy ads stress cost of 'playing'

October 18, 1990|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

Last year, it was your manhood. This year, it's your allowance.

Maryland's prevention program for teen-age pregnancy is now trying to convince boys that the cost of having children far exceeds their spending money.

The new state media campaign builds on last year's series of advertisements that tried to make youths rethink the connection between manhood and sexual activity.

"You Play. You Pay," is the new slogan for the campaign, which also asks young men: "A baby costs $474 a month. How much do you have in your pocket?"

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who attended the unveiling of the new campaign at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital yesterday, suggested this was more than a rhetorical question.

"I don't know if we bring enough pressure on the teen-age male," the governor said after the presentation. "I'm not talking about persecution. . . but how to pursue young people."

Asked to clarify his idea, Schaefer said it was an on-the-spot inspiration he had not had time to develop. But he did throw out "community service" as one way of paying after playing.

But would Schaefer actually ask the Department of Human Resources, which is struggling with a large backlog of adults who don't pay child support, to track down teen-age fathers? Schaefer could not be drawn out on the idea afterward.

The Save Our Children Campaign Inc. is an ongoing, five-year drive that hopes to persuade children 9 to 14 years old to delay sexual activity by at least a year.

Each year of sexual abstinence translates into fewer teen-age pregnancies, say the campaign's founders, and therefore less state money spent for the social programs used by young parents and their children.

Nancy Grasmick, special secretary for children, youth and families, said the thousands of children born annually to teen-age parents can cost the state an average of $33,000 a year.

"Each month is worth 3 or 4 million dollars," said Hal Donofrio, the campaign's executive director.

This year's print ads point up the literal costs of child support and question the manliness of any boy who would conceive, then leave.

In the television advertisement, shot in the black-and-white arty style used in music videos, a boy has been dumped by a girlfriend who refused him sex. He says sneeringly she wanted "someone nice. What's that make me?" A rat scuttles across the screen.

But do the ads, coupled with school-based efforts, actually work?

Bronwyn Mayden, executive director of the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy, said a preliminary survey at five Baltimore elementary schools showed encouraging results.

Of 95 students surveyed, 91 percent said they knew of it; 80 percent described it as "very, very helpful"; and 75 percent said it helped them discuss sex and related issues with their parents.

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