Two reports released in July were bearers of bad news when it comes to teens and sexual activity. Despite what had been a significant decline in the number of teens having sex from 1991 to 2004, the trend has dramatically reversed, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and detailed in an article on HealthNews.com.
Not only is sexual activity among teens on the rise, revealed the study, but so are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and teen births. Among boys ages 15 to 17, 32 percent had engaged in sex, as had 30 percent of girls. The statistics were worse among those ages 18 to 19—at these later teen ages, almost 65 percent of boys and 71 percent of girls had engaged in sexual activity.
Frighteningly, the CDC report noted that the annual rate of AIDS cases among boys ages 15 to 19 has almost doubled in the past decade. Syphilis infections are also on the rise among both sexes. Almost 25 percent of teen girls ages 15 to 19 are infected with human papilomavirus (HPV). And in 2004, the study found, almost three quarters of a million pregnancies occurred among females in the U.S. under 20 years old.
In a related study released in July by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and reported on Time.com, it was found that the numbers are even more dire for teens in the foster care system, reaching what the article noted as “epidemic levels.” Almost half of the approximate 500,000 young people in foster care had sex for the first time before age 16—a number considerably higher than the 30 percent figure of those the same age not in foster care. The article also noted a study by the University of Chicago that found that nearly half of the girls who had been in foster care had been pregnant at least once by age 19.
Amid the voices debating what can be done to turn the situation around, Time.com’s Amy Sullivan makes an important observation: “Perhaps the most important asset teenagers need to avoid early parenthood is a strong relationship with parents or other adults in their lives,” she wrote.
Gregg Johnson, a Foursquare minister and the founder of J12, or Jesus at Twelve, echoes Sullivan’s point.
“I have always believed that if we could reach tweens [a term generally considered to cover ages 8 through 12], we wouldn’t need to be rescuing them,” he told Foursquare.org in an interview. “Much of the regrettable activities that teens get themselves into are the result of a ‘point of view’ … without a perspective and vision for their future, today’s temptations become irresistible.”
Gregg, who has served The Foursquare Church in various leadership capacities through the years, regularly speaks on this topic at churches both within and outside of Foursquare. J12, he notes, is a “tween-specific ministry designed to plant the seeds of destiny and desire for the ways of God in the hearts of our tweens.” The ministry’s key focus is the seven words Jesus spoke at age 12, as recorded in the Gospels: “I must be about my Father’s business.”
“The result of our focus on the proactive words of Jesus at 12,” says Gregg, “has been numerous testimonies of young lives leading Bible studies in schools, raising money for mission causes, and actually being a blessing in their homes.” He also notes that the ministry has a discipleship program where tweens are taught “how they can practically live with an ‘I must’ faith instead of an ‘I should’ religion.”
Foursquare’s NextGen Ministry also targets the young people of today who will be the leaders of tomorrow. One of the ministry’s key goals is to build up leaders and release the next generation by providing training and resources. Kelly Fellows was recently appointed the director of NextGen, effective September 1, filling the vacancy left by James Craft when he was appointed senior pastor of Sonrise Foursquare Church in Simi Valley, Calif.