Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pregnant Teens

A controversy of the past week has been that a Gloucester, Mass. high school has 17 pregnant girls this year. This is four times the amount the school had last year, and a rather large number. It should be a controversy in and of itself; except a great deal of attention has been paid to the superintendent of the school district's claims that the girls made a pact to get pregnant instead of acknowledging the fact that the nation as a whole has experienced a 3% rise in teen pregnancies. The waters became muddied and the information convoluted when the superintendent's statements were contradicted by the mayor of the town.

Why anyone would make claims about a group of girls getting pregnant on purpose is fairly simple to figure out: if the pregnancies happened independently of one another and with no real purpose, then the dialogue would focus on things like the failure of abstinence only education (or, God forbid, parental interaction with children). However, if the girls deviously and purposely were intending to get pregnant, then the dialogue becomes once again the trite and overly repeated version of "kids today". The focus is removed from the programs and societal mores and it simply becomes about this group of girls with a hankering for changing diapers.

But the mayor's "outing" of the superintendent's lies (and a 164 page report) put the focus back where it should be: abstinence only education programs just don't work. Perhaps they did, once upon a time, work. I doubt it though. There have always been homes for unwed mothers, girls who would disappear to "Europe" or their grandparents for about 9 months and then come back, and there have always been people like Bobby Darin -who discovered late in life that his older sister was in fact his mother. In Puritan societies, that beacon of moral propriety, many girls got married during their pregnancy. And the term "shot-gun wedding" isn't a part of our verbal lexicon because girls and boys weren't having sex.

And why should they work? Especially now, we as a society focus on sexuality. We demand it. We embrace it. Teens see sex everywhere, see their bodies as marketable commodities to be advertised and used. So, for that matter, do the rest of us. Television, movies, magazines, etc. tell teens that sex is good and sex is great and that with sex comes power -power to buy, power to sell, power to get their way- and we expect them to listen to a teacher (or nurse) who tells them "Don't"? Who shows them pictures of genital warts and tells them that sex ALWAYS leads to pregnancy and that they had best save themselves for marriage because virginity is something to be treasured (if they discuss any of it at all beyond the initial "no")? Abstinence only programs are out of touch, and were probably always out of touch, because they do not take into account (a) the world outside of the classroom, and (b) students' own sexual desires.

I don't want 15 year olds having sex; I certainly don't want them getting pregnant. But I do think that when schools (and parents, and government, and society) refuse to acknowledge that these feelings are real and powerful and that 15 year olds think they know everything, we are bound to have more 15 year olds having sex and more 15 year olds getting pregnant. Teenagers aren't stupid, even if they behave stupidly when not given all of the information. Sex and drugs are things we have to, as a society, have serious and complex discussions about. We have to look to the route of the reasons for why kids want to try them and how we can convince them not to. Telling them "no" doesn't cut it. Establishing a dialogue with them, teaching them about emotional maturity in sexual matters, showing them how to properly use a condom (and dispelling myths about Mountain Dew or jacuzzis), and all the while emphasizing why it is better to wait while listening to and respecting them and the validity of their opinions and emotions and reasons is the better way.

We can simply sit our children down as parents at the age of 5 (or as soon as they ask) and tell them where babies come from, in graphic detail and with books. We can start discussing these things at a young age, and be active parents. We can limit their exposure to shows like One Tree Hill or Gossip Girl. We can read Judy Blume books with them. We can dress our kids in age appropriate clothing instead of high heels for babies. And we also need to accept the fact that teenagers have sex; teenagers had sex when we were in school, when our parents were in school, and more than probably when their parents were in school. We should remember that fact, and then think about how a lack of knowledge about contraception doesn't limit sexual activity. It just limits safe sexual activity.

1 comment:

jjfs85 said...

More proof that abstinence-only education doesn't work? GASP! How can this be? The federal government subsidizes these types of programs. They wouldn't waste money like that on programs that don't work.

The fact of the matter is that if we don't teach things like birth control to teens, things like this will happen.

In an unrelated matter, I can't wait to have a democrat in the office of the presidency.