Thursday, December 18, 2008

Making Teen Pregnancy Easy

Here's a troubling story on girls having babies, "Too Young for This: They're Having Babies. Are We Helping?:

Teenage pregnancy has been bright on American radar screens for the past year: TV teen starlet Jamie Lynn Spears's pregnancy caused a minor media storm last December. The pregnant-teen movie "Juno" won Oscar nods. And there was Bristol Palin, daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, bringing the issue front and center during the recent presidential campaign. But I've been observing the phenomenon up close for a couple of years now, and the picture I see is more troubling than any of those high-profile pregnancies make it seem.

The somber statistics about teen motherhood are the reason the day-care center, run by the local nonprofit Campagna Center, was opened in T.C. Williams two years ago. The idea is to keep the girls in school, let them get their diplomas and help them avoid the kind of fate described earlier. I've been a teacher for more than 30 years, and I want the best for my students and to help them succeed in every way possible. I know that these girls need support. But I can't help thinking we're going at this all wrong.

On the surface, Alexandria seems to be striving to stem teen pregnancy. Every high school student is required to take a "family life" course that teaches about birth control, sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy. The Adolescent Health Center, a clinic providing birth control, was built a few blocks from the school. The city-run Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy sponsors workshops for parents and teens. But none of this coalesces to hit the teens with the message that getting pregnant is a disaster. And within the school, apart from the family life class, the attitude is laissez-faire, as if teachers and administrators are afraid to address the issue for fear of offending the students who have children.

Once a girl gets pregnant, though, the school leaps in to do everything for her. But I wonder: Is it possible that all this assistance -- with little or no comment about the kids' actions -- has the unintended effect of actually encouraging them to get pregnant? Are we making it easier for girls to make a bad choice and helping them avoid the truth about the consequences?

And for many, it does seem to be a choice. "There's a myth that these pregnancies are accidental," says school nurse Nancy Runton. "But many of them aren't. I've known girls who've made 'I'll get pregnant if you get pregnant' pacts. It's a status thing. These girls go around school telling each other how beautiful they look pregnant, how cute their tummies look."
Read the whole thing, here.

Local health agencies provide birth control shots ("DMPA/Depo-Provera every three months") ...and the parents of the girls are cool with it:

The fact is, says Robert Wolverton, medical director of the teen health clinic, most of these girls and their families see no problem with being unmarried and having a child at 16 or 17."


Bob's Blog said...

The U.S. Census Bureau just published the 2009 edition of Uncle Sam's Almanac, which states this fact: 38.5% of all children born in America are born to unmarried mothers!

jill said...

Troubling is right. These poor girls are looking for love in all the wrong places, from their boyfriends, and then from their babies. In a way, it's like playing with dolls, but the dolls, in the end, are real. What a mess.