“If you were giving a talk on teen pregnancy to a conservative, faith-based group who cares, what messages would you want to convey?“
A couple of years ago I asked this question of someone in our family planning division at work. I was serious. I wanted her perspective. She did not hesitate.
“I would tell them we live in a sex-saturated society, and everyone else is talking about sex – they need to be part of the conversation. I would tell them that you are not giving a teenager a mixed message if you tell them what you believe and what you would want them to do, and yet arm them with tools and knowledge about contraception if they make a different choice.” It was a great conversation.
So armed with this, as well as facts and figures that tell more of the story of teen pregnancy I ended up leading a discussion at our church.
Along with the facts, I wanted to give a face to the story. I chose to show a clip from a documentary called “The Gloucester 18”.
In 2008 Gloucester, Massachusetts – a seaport city known for its lobster, fishing and The Perfect Storm found itself in the center of a world-wide media frenzy. Reporters from as far away as Australia and Brazil descended on the town with cameras,microphones and all the other apparatus needed for a sensational story. The reason? There were four times the number of teen pregnancies than previous years and word had surfaced that 18 teenage girls had made a pact to become pregnant. As the nurse practitioner at Gloucester High School said “People love scandal”.
News networks preyed on this story like hawks and the girls and their families were deluged with phone calls from CNN to Dr. Phil.
So what is the real story behind these Gloucester teenagers? More importantly what’s the story behind teen pregnancy in general?
What we know:
We know several things. We know that teen pregnancy is a complicated issue and those that ignore the complexity are living in denial. “Just Don’t Do It” or teaching kids about sex by showing them Barbie and Ken in a shoe box seem to be ineffective ways to deal with teens and sex, teens and pregnancy. While the United States has seen a significant decline in recent years, the lowest rate in 70 years, we still have the highest rate in the developing world, surpassing Great Britain, France, The Netherlands and Sweden.
We know other things as well….
- that 50% of teen mothers get a high school diploma by age 22, compared with 90% of teen girls who do not give birth.
- that teen childbearing costs U.S.taxpayers about $9 billion each year.
- that girls born to teen mothers are about 30% more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
- that children of teen parents are more likely to do poorly in school and to drop out of school
- that half of teen pregnancies end up in abortion – if we care about abortion we need to face and care about the issue of teen pregnancy
- that southern states have a higher rate of pregnancy than northern states
- that less teens are having sex now then in 1988
- that when money is put into sex education and birth control, the abortion rate goes down.
So when the discussion comes around to “Do we expect abstinence only programs to work in the world as we know it” I would say no. Any good sex education program has abstinence as a part of the curriculum, but the operative word is part not the entire curriculum.
Back to the Gloucester 18 – a face to the problem. The truth is, there was no pact. There was no conspiracy to all get pregnant at the same time. Most of the girls found out about a pact by watching the nightly news. The stories portrayed are poignant and real. In the spirit of a good documentary there is a raw and compelling truth that comes through and you can’t stay detached through facts and figures because they now have names and faces and most of all, babies. Beyond the newspaper stories were kids having kids. Girls searching for meaning and purpose, girls looking for stability and love, girls trying to please boyfriends and parents, friends and school authorities. Girls who were still trying to grow up and ended up facing the task of motherhood and parenting.
God doesn’t force his boundaries on anyone; He may long for us to stay within them, but He doesn’t force us.
As much as I may want to wave my wand and make teenagers make different choices, I don’t have that ability. But I can understand the problem, present my view passionately and at the same time be willing to recognize the world we live in, a world we must respond to in ways that are wise. We live in a broken world, a world that is not as it should be. Our world is made up of people who have choices. God doesn’t force his boundaries on anyone; He may long for us to stay within them for our own protection, but He doesn’t force us. So what should my response be? Compassion? Common sense? Tough Love? Interest? All that and perhaps more?
As I think about the issue of teen pregnancy and teen sexuality I think about sex as a china cup. A fragile, expensive china cup created by a Master Craftsman, with a unique and beautiful design. But once passed from the Craftsman to us to care for, the china cup broke into many pieces. And each of us try to put together these broken pieces, try to put back a pattern and restore a sense of what was.
Teen pregnancy is just one broken piece of the many. Can the Church be part of a solution to put it back together?
Note: This blog has been revised from a post written in 2012. I chose to repost because of the decision to cut millions of dollars from prevention programs.
- The Link Between Income Inequality and Teen Pregnancy (parenting.blogs.nytimes.com)
- CDC Report
- Revisiting the Gloucester 18
- U.S. teen birth rate drops to a record low (fox13now.com)
- U.S. teen pregnancy rates at an all-time low across all ethnicities (cbsnews.com)
8 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Teen Pregnancy”
As the mother of a teen mom I appreciate your honesty and frank outlook. The world judges harshly and openly and my daughter has heard it all. She was somehow less than human for getting pregnant, but her peers who were sexually active were fine because no one had to know. Fortunately, she is not one of the statistics you quote.She just celebrated her daughter’s college graduation with honors.
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So much grace to you as you support your daughter and help her see the grace that is there. You must be incredibly proud of her and your grandaughter.
Yes, I am she and my son in law became parents when they were 15 and 16. They have four beautiful children and have been married almost 18 years.
You are so right, we must deal with reality, and work with what IS, not what should be. Teens tend to be in a sort of bubble, ugly things happen to others, not me. They assume invulnerability, sometimes because of protective parents, other times just wishful thinking or group think. Regardless of why, teens are hungry for love and acceptance, and if girls are not getting that from a father at home, they will look for it elsewhere. The breakdown of the family unit has been Satan’s masterpiece to draw humans to hell. With divorce and lack of marriage making more and more single parent families, this hunger for unconditional love just gets stronger. And we humans are suckers for the supposedly easy way to accomplish anything hard, anything that takes sustained effort and involves possible pain. Only God has the way out of this miasma of despair enveloping teens so eager for real love. We need to be out offering it in every place and time possible. Even a smile and a generous tip at a cafe can be an opportunity.
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This comment has so much truth. Thank you. Have been thinking of you lately.
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Thank you, thank you for tackling this issue with honesty, grace and an understanding that we live in a broken world. I have worked with women (young and old) facing unwanted pregnancies. When I’ve been constrained by the organization I was working with not to mention contraception, it was frustrating and fruitless. I chose to remove myself from those constraints for the reasons you eloquently state. We have to take the world as it IS, not as we wish it to be. We can love these women into the arms of Jesus when we accept them-wherever they are-and shower grace and mercy on their lives.
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It’s in that category of hard issues, right?i remember interviewing for a job in a crisis pregnancy center and I didn’t get the job because I believed in birth control. So frustrating. That’s one of the reasons I love Call the Midwife. Never do they compromise, yet always do they show love and compassion.
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Call the Midwife is a favorite of mine for the same reason.
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