I tuned in to OWN (Oprah Winfrey’s Network) to watch Lisa Ling’s new show “Our America” last Tuesday and the episode was called “Teen Mom Nation.”
The statistics were staggering:
- 1 out of 3 teen girls becomes pregnant
- More than 1,000 teen girls a day give birth
- 50% of Black & Latino girls get pregnant before turning 20
This lead me to think about my own experience growing up, as well as my perspective as a teacher, a step-mom and a future mom.
Shortly after starting my menstrual cycle (I was 11 years old), my mom said that we were going to get birth control. I can remember her saying if I was thinking about having sex she hoped I wouldn’t, but if I did that I should use condoms. Every three months we went to the doctor so that I could get injected with birth control. While no one wants to get shots, the millisecond of pain prevented a lifetime of struggle for me. Some would balk at the idea of a mother (or father) giving an 11 year old birth control but the biological reality was that I was capable of making a baby and my mother also understood that while she had instilled certain values in me, she wasn’t with me 24 hours a day. Fast forward almost 20 years and I know that if I have a daughter I will make a similar decision. My job as a parent is to protect my child and if that means putting her on birth control to prevent her from becoming a mom too soon, then I’d do it. Similarly, if I have a son, when he turns 12 or 13, I will be sure to not only have the “birds and the bees” talk, but make sure he knows how to use condoms and have the “birth control” talk with his potential sexual partners.
Although my mom put me on birth control, she did not allow boys to come over to visit when I was between the ages of 11 – 16, and even at age 16/17, I was allowed to go on dates, but I was never allowed to be unsupervised at home. She also had conversations with my friend-boy’s parents (she refused to call them boyfriends lol) just so that she knew where I was and who they were.
The thing about many parents (and even the parents that were featured on the program) was that they were in denial about their daughters having sex. Teens are exposed to sex in every area of their lives and at 12 or 13 they get curious because they see it on TV and may even hear about it amongst their peers. Not to mention the reality of hormones which also piques their interest. I’ve been dealing with teens (particularly 14 year olds) as a teacher for 10 years now and I can tell you that most of my girls are PREOCCUPIED with boys – you often find them talking amongst teaching about what boys like? whose the most attractive? what is love? what is infatuation? They choose their clothes based on what they think boys like, they “dumb themselves down” by not speaking up in class and they can be aggressive sometimes physically by chasing boys and begging for their attention; not to mention the conflict they have with other girls because of boys…
Lisa Ling’s “Our America” program talked about how many girls are looking for love and attention and many of them live in single parent households and don’t have father figures. There was one case study of an African American girl who was the youngest of 7 siblings. She described being a mom as having “something that belonged to her” and “someone that would love her and depend on her.” The father of her baby was older and he was expecting a baby with another woman. The whole idea of “trapping” was also discussed which is the idea that a girl can “trap” a man or force him to be with her because she gives birth to “his” baby. For a teen girl love is blinding, and she often confuses sexual attention with love. This is especially true for teen girls who don’t have fathers or male figures to help her navigate the dating world. Girls who live in single parent households have parents who have to work, so even they may not necessarily have the time to invest which causes the cycle of poverty and teen parenting to happen over and over again, generation after generation.
There was a Girl’s Inc. program in Memphis, Tennessee that brought a group of teen girls together. The girls received a doll that simulated a real baby. The doll cried randomly, excreted life-like fluids and had to be fed. The girls were to care for the doll for approximately 12 hours and were given car seats, bottles, the whole 9. The program was very successful in discouraging teen pregnancy because it made teen motherhood a reality. In the four years that they’ve been doing the program only one girl was pregnant. Based on the Our America program it was clear that teens romanticize parenthood. They underestimate just how difficult parenting is. Today’s children learn best by experience. Gone are the days of lecturing, begging and preaching. We have to create more learning activities that are hands-on because these experiential learning activities leave life-long impressions.
As it relates to teen dads, they often leave the picture. Boys have to be educated on the dangers of teen parenting and the risk of sexual activity. They also have to be taught how to be responsible sexually because teen pregnancy happens often because of unprotected sex.
Finally, children cannot be afraid to talk to their parents. While you don’t want to lay out the red carpet for sexual exploration, you also don’t want to be in denial about your child’s interest in sex. You also don’t want to create a situation where they are afraid to talk to you about their thoughts or (false) information they may hear from their peers. A parent is a child’s first teacher and in 2012 we don’t have the luxury to just ignore subjects or topics that we may be too uncomfortable to address with our children.
We have to affirm our girls. Some of them may be searching for love and attention because there is an absence of one or both in their lives. Another way that my family helped me avoid teen pregnancy was by keeping me busy. Teenagers need places to go and things to do, otherwise they get themselves in trouble…