FEWER babies are born to teen-age mothers now than 15 years ago, but that is not because fewer girls are getting pregnant. The difference is due largely to the legalization of abortion in 1973. About 10 percent of all teenage girls in the United States, 1 million a year, get pregnant. The majority of these pregnancies are unplanned.
Until recently, little attention has been paid to the male side of the teen-age pregnancy problem. But now pregnancy prevention programs aimed at young men are growing in number and scope.
The programs include family-planning clinics with special outreach to boys, school-based clinics with comprehensive medical and counseling services, and role-model and peer counseling in boys' clubs and school sports programs.
The success of pregnancy prevention efforts directed toward boys is harder to evaluate than prevention efforts for girls.
But experts believe the most effective programs are holistic - teaching sexual responsibility in the context of larger concerns about health, planning, and life goals.
``One thing we believe keeps someone from getting pregnant, especially if you're poor, is if you have in your mind that you can be something,'' says Sharon Adams-Taylor. She's the coordinator of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Clearinghouse of the Children's Defense Fund.
The idea that teens delay pregnancy when they have other goals and expectations is well accepted in programs for young women.
Now it is being incorporated into pregnancy prevention programs for young men, expanding methods well beyond sex education and contraception.
Such things as academic tutoring, job training, sports coaching, and help with planning and decisionmaking are all now part of the pregnancy prevention curriculum.
Clinics and family-planning programs generally have a harder time reaching boys than girls, because boys are usually more reluctant to ask for information and help, and girls bear the most immediate responsibility for a child.
``They have a harder time getting boys in unless there is special outreach,'' Ms. Adams-Taylor notes.
But she believes that in many cases, stereotypes of boys as alienated and unconcerned have been used as excuses to avoid the extra work of setting up programs for them. Experiences of agencies that do make a special effort show that it is possible to reach boys.
One of the most creative approaches for attracting boys is used by the Young Men's Clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. Clinic programs are designed exclusively for teens at high risk for becoming fathers.
Clinic counselors videotape boys playing basketball and break dancing on the street, and then talk with them about health and sexuality. Later they invite the boys to the clinic to watch the videotapes and talk more.
Other programs send young volunteers out to playgrounds, schools, and boys' clubs to talk to their peers about sexual responsibility.
But the success of such outreach programs for boys is hard to measure.