MYTH: Teen-age pregnancies are soaring.
REALITY: Sexual activity rates have risen, but the pregnancy rate among sexually active teen-agers actually fell 19% between 1972 and 1990. The trend shows that teen-agers have become more successful in preventing pregnancy over the last two decades.
MYTH: Teen-agers are fathering the babies born to teen-age girls.
REALITY: In 1990, in 23% of the births to a school-age parent, the partner was also of school age. In 69% of such births, the mother was of school age and the father was older. In fact, men older than 25 caused more births among teen-age mothers than did boys 10 to 18. In California, men older than 25 father around 12,000 babies born to teen-age mothers every year; nationally, they father more than 80,000.
MYTH: Teen-age suicides have skyrocketed over the last 30 years.
REALITY: Although teen-age suicides rose 118% between 1970 and 1989 in the rest of the country, they dropped 16% in Los Angeles County, which has one of the lowest rates in the country. All suicides in L.A. County dropped 48% from 1970 to 1992, a phenomenon attributed partly to changing demographics: People of other races do not commit suicide as often as whites.
MYTH: Out-of-wedlock births are a modern phenomenon.
REALITY: America's founding fathers were not always married: In Concord, Mass., a bastion of Puritan tradition, a third of children born during the 20 years before the American Revolution were conceived out of wedlock; during the 1780s and 1790s, a third of the brides in rural New England were pregnant when they married.
MYTH: The 1950s were an era of sexual restraint, abstinence and deferred gratification.
REALITY: Teen-age birth rates soared in the 1950s and have not been equaled since. But childbirth was linked more to marriage then.
MYTH: No one has time, and society's problems are too big for individuals to make a difference.
REALITY: Each of the following actions can be accomplished in less than five minutes:
1. Call a candidate's headquarters and ask for his or her position statement on children, violence, family values and education. Call the mayor's office or the White House Public Opinion line: (202) 456-1111.
2. Call the Campaign for Kids TV at (202) 628-2620 and request a free packet on monitoring the Children's Television Act.
3. Call or write teachers to applaud when they do something inspiring.
4. Donate books to elementary schools or public libraries.
Sources: Mike Males, UC Irvine; sociologist Stephanie Coontz; Alan Guttmacher Institute; Wade Clark Roof; Center for Media Literacy, Los Angeles; Margaret Brodkin.