Good news on teens

On many significant fronts, the health and well-being of the nation's children appears to be good. American families must be doing something right.

We are accustomed to hearing what they do wrong, how parents neglect or mistreat their children and how children rebel in harmful ways. But the latest government survey on a number of factors concerning the health of our children offers a brighter picture than many might suspect.

For example, fewer teens are having sex; the majority of those who do are using condoms; and the teen birth rate has hit an all-time low. In 2005, the percentage of teens who reported having had sexual intercourse -- 47 percent -- remains high, but is down from 54 percent in 1991.

Of those who had sex during a three-month period in 2005, 63 percent used condoms. That's up from 46 percent in 1991.

And the teen birth rate was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17 in 2005 -- a record low and down from 39 births per 1,000 in 1991.

These figures appear to reinforce the need for comprehensive sex education in the nation's schools, including information about contraception. While educators are justified in advising abstinence as the safest course for unmarried teens, teens also need to know the facts about birth control and protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Even with the promotion of abstinence, nearly half of the nation's high-school students have sex. And that figure has remained constant since 2003. We should take heart that more of them are using condoms.

The news also was good in a few other areas: More children are being read to daily by a family member; more children had at least one parent working full time; more young people are completing high school.

However, the survey also found that the percentage of children covered by health insurance decreased slightly. That is a problem the nation must address and an issue that should be at the center of this presidential campaign.

Fewer of today's teens are having sex while more of those who do are using condoms.