Pregnant Teen Girls Gone Wild

20 06 2008

The question of what to do next has divided this fiercely Catholic enclave. . .Gloucester [MA] isn’t sure it wants to provide easier access to birth control. In any case, many residents worry that the problem goes much deeper. . .

“Families are broken,” says school superintendent Christopher Farmer. “Many of our young people are growing up directionless.”

If there are words for this pregnant power of story, I haven’t found them yet. How about you?

Once again, the news has touched off a round of soul-searching and finger-pointing. According to the Time article, adults in Gloucester variously blame a depressed local economy, broken families, adrift children, difficult access to birth control, and hit movies like “Juno” and “Knocked Up” that they say glamorize pregnancy to young audiences.

Bad examples set by celebrities off-screen did not come up, though, and no one Time talked to in Gloucester seems to have mentioned the most famous teen mother of the moment.

As American society, shall we teach our girls that teen pregnancy is desirable, or not? That it represents hope or fear? For the young mom, is it reward or punishment?

(Are these even questions with right answers to be had?)

Maybe I haven’t found the words yet, but the words of Alfie Kohn and Barack Obama come to mind.

Kohn of course wrote “Punished By Rewards” and Barack Obama said — here’s much more context than you may have gotten from the attacks on his words — in PA during the March 29 edition of CNN’s Ballot Bowl 2008:

OBAMA: . . . So, when it comes to — when it comes specifically to HIV/AIDS, the most important prevention is education, which should include — which should include abstinence only — should include abstinence education and teaching that children — teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual. But it should also include — it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I’ve got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old. I’m going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby. I don’t want them punished with an STD at the age of 16.

You know, so, it doesn’t make sense to not give them information. You still want to teach them the morals and the values to make good decisions. That will be important, number one. Then we’re still going to have to provide better treatment for those who do have — who do contract HIV/AIDS, because it’s no longer a death sentence, if, in fact, you get the proper cocktails. It’s expensive. That’s why we want to prevent as much as possible.

But we should also provide better treatment. And we should focus on those sectors where it’s prevalent and we’ve got to get over the stigma . . .
Let me say one last thing, though. I’m going to use the presidential bully pulpit to start talking about people taking responsibility. We were talking about education earlier. . . And the same is true on health care. . .That’s going to be important.

Yet Barack Obama’s heartfelt unscripted words on personal responsibility and public policy-based teen pregnancy prevention through better education, and better treatment responses to other sex-related health challenges as both father and policy leader, are misconstrued — mangled! — the better to mock them publicly, even by anti-abortion conservative Christian homeschooling moms, not just his professional male political opponents.

Here’s one example, in which “child pregnancy” is confused with the clearly different word “child” in discouraging error, intentional or not.

That kind of poor “thinking” presented as homeschool parent politics should scare me, and it would if I let it.

But as I’ve said a lot lately, I’m tired of being afraid, especially as a homeschooling parent myself. So this year, I’m throwing in my political lot with my hopes instead of my fears.

And what I hope most of all, is that education and politics, minds and the times, they really are a changing.

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13 responses

20 06 2008
Nance Confer

people taking responsibility.

***

Unfortunately, too many people read this and see “those darned teenagers should be more responsible.” Not “parents are responsible for making sure their teen children have good options, are informed, are educated.”

Nance

20 06 2008
JJ

And — if your teen isn’t informed and educated, with good options at the ready, maybe that teen is still a child not ready to BE a parent!

(And maybe you weren’t ready, either, and maybe that’s a big unacknowledged part of the real problem.)

One of the Gloucester moms on cable news today said something like, “These girls are barely old enough to buy their own cigarettes, and they’re gonna be mothers??”

(It was a cultural jolt. I honestly wasn’t sure from this what so outraged her sense of propriety, but it didn’t seem to be the idea of high school girl motherhood per se, or that their education would be cut short — more like they’d be throwing away years otherwise dedicated to carefree smoking, and then drinking, and THEN pregnancy, in the natural order of things.)

20 06 2008
JJ

And I wonder if the people who think the movie “Juno” glorified teen pregnancy actually saw it? It made teen SEX look pretty good but sure did not glorify teen pregnancy, nor all the tough, life-altering choices it brings in its wake.

And I wonder if the movie’s anti-abortion critics are aware that Juno was a powerful, immortal goddess — and if I remember right, not only the god of fertility and childbirth but marital fidelity! (The movie makes motherlove and fidelity look pretty good too, imo.)

So I also wonder if part of the problem really is people worrying about the teen sex, pregnancy or no. They don’t want there to be any teen sex, even without pregnancy or disease or heartbreak resulting.

So unacceptable in their minds in fact, that I wonder if maybe they DO think of following through to giving birth as a sort of righteous punishment, one that’s well-deserved and must be delivered at all costs, along with the baby. . . and the girl’s parents are of course “responsible” for seeing that she experiences it.

UPDATE from “Parental Rights, Responsible Parenting of Sex and Potential Parenthood”:

What if a teen does take responsibility to make responsible choices, but not always choosing what we would choose for them if it were still up to us? Are all good choices for our children only what we would decide FOR them — when do we let go the decision-driving, and call our maturing teens good and responsible drivers even though they don’t necessarily drive where we want them to go, simply because they drive well getting there?

At what point does a teen’s responsible approach rather than the particular result we as parents prefer, come to define good?

25 06 2008
Crimson Wife

If the media reports about the Gloucester situation are accurate, the majority of the pregnant teens *WANTED* to have a baby. So enhanced access to contraceptives would do absolutely nothing to reduce the pregnancy rate among those girls. Their problem is not that they couldn’t get the Pill but that they lack ambitions for the future and most likely come from dysfunctional families themselves. Girls from stable homes with bright dreams from the future just don’t go around trying to get pregnant at 15 or 16, KWIM?

26 06 2008
Nance Confer

“Their problem is not that they couldn’t get the Pill but that they lack ambitions for the future and most likely come from dysfunctional families themselves.”

That does seem to be a large part of the story. And now there may or may not have been a “pact?”

“Girls from stable homes with bright dreams from the future just don’t go around trying to get pregnant at 15 or 16, KWIM?”

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule and unplanned pregnancies without information and access. Nice girls like sex, too.

Nance

26 06 2008
JJ

Hi CW, I think I very much agree with this view.
Teen pregnancy is dysfunctional in this culture and economy, a major threat to any girl’s opportunities for true life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. So teen pregnancy certainly makes no sense for girls to “want” or for us to dream of and work toward for our society. It is not a good thing.

And yet I imagine you and I also agree that the changes leading to a better life all around, are not something we can inflict on teens or their families and community. Society cannot decree that the people of Gloucester are dysfunctional so we will force them and their teens to live and choose and work our prescribed way.

We the public will not step in and retool the failed fishing economy of this town by assigning the boys to certain jobs and making them stay in residence there for their whole lives, and produce for the common good. No government local or federal can by public policy terminate these dysfunctional pregnancies against the girls’ own choice, nor require every girl in high school next year to take the pill, etc. Nor sterilize the girls and put them to work too. We won’t pass laws based on our ideas of what is best, forcing OR forbidding all teens to have sex, get pregnant or stay pregnant, get married or stay married, keep their babies or give them away, etc.

The contraceptives and sex education issue — “birth control” — interested me as public policy because it was all there in the school and community already, but so clearly ineffectual. I’m thinking this tells us more about how ineffectual if not irrelevant, the whole “public education” system is to this community, how it just doesn’t change lives for the better no matter how good the intent or the tax money spent. (All the academics I mean, all the professional teachers, not just health and sex ed.)

If a Gloucester generation had been really educated rather than merely schooled, wouldn’t it have helped this community in all sorts of ways we could agree would be better for everyone than girls getting pregnant and having babies?

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19 01 2011
JJ

It’s early 2011 now but nothing has changed, about human nature, school politics or the media: Frayser County (Memphis) has a 26 percent teen pregnancy rate, nearly double national average

The variously reported statistics aren’t the real story but they do get attention and can be interesting to compare. For example the Daily Beast’s blurb for this news reports the pregnancy rate as only 11 percent. Why? Somebody counted all the boys too. None were pregnant — 100 percent success rate for preventing teen pregnancy in boys!

10 09 2012
JJ

And now more than halfway through 2012, we have US Senate candidate Todd Aken ignorantly pontificating about “rape” and VP candidate Paul Ryan pretending he never joined with Aiken in the House bent on legislating against impregnated rape victims. Just saw this about pregnant teens in small towns as rape victims more often than sluts, with the Bible rather than birth control suggested to “help”:

I married my rapist and had four kids

I thought marriage would free me from the shame and humiliation that had dogged my every footstep since the first rape in the spring of 1977. Back then, I didn’t see him as my rapist;: he was just my unborn baby’s father. Through marriage, I was merely trying to give that child the best life possible. Saving my family the embarrassment of having an unwed daughter — something that seemed to happen in every other house in the county — was just a bonus.

But most important, from that day forward, never again would sex be wrong or leave me feeling dirty and ashamed. So in a way, I was saving myself, too.

By the time I realized that wasn’t even possible — it was too late. . .

16 11 2013
JJ

Another way to quantify the trend of “pregnant teens gone wild” is as a percentage of all births, showing WILD variation from lows of 14% in Seattle to highs of 80% in Cleveland.

When it comes to outside-of-marriage motherhood, other factors come into play beside old-fashioned religious values. For example, a Census Bureau report found that non-marital birth rates correlate strongly with education and income. In more affluent, well-educated places (like Seattle), the rate of non-marital births tends to be lower.

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