My interview with Kristen Grieco Elworthy about her Gloucester-18 documentary has made me think a lot more about intentional teen pregnancy. Unintended teen pregnancy is bad enough; but Kristen’s stat that about 1 in 5 teen pregnancies are intentional is equally concerning. Where to start to address it? Here’s my take.
It starts with the parents
As Kristen recounts, some of the girls she interviewed for the film said they wanted to get pregnant because they didn’t feel they are “good” at anything, and can see motherhood as a way to be good at something–in this case, something big that is revered in our society.
This lack of self-esteem, and how they try to solve it changes their lives forever. If girls could be given more help to increase their self-confidence and vision for themselves and their lives, seems to me that more would make a different choice than thinking becoming a mother is the answer to their problems.
Where does the self-esteem work begin? With effective parenting. What might get in the way of this? If the parents have esteem issues themselves. To help instill confidence and self-worth in girls, the parents have to have it themselves. When they don’t, the odds are their daughters won’t either, and will look for ways to feel good about themselves. If they choose motherhood they end up learning the hard way that it is not the answer, and in fact, their lives just got harder.
Quality life skills education in schools
There also needs to be more life skills programs in schools so teens not only get comprehensive sex and birth control education, but learn the many benefits of not getting pregnant too early in life.
These kind of programs need to better encourage teens to think about what they want for themselves and their lives. They also need to expose young people to the reality that parenthood is not just a matter of when (and to be very smart about that when),but whether –that choosing the childfree life may be what is right for them, given what they think they want to do with their lives.
While we have a ways to go to integrating the idea that parenthood is optional into these kinds of programs, there have been programs that help girls have goals other than motherhood, and have shown decreases in teen pregnancies. Take the National Adolescent Sexuality Training Center for the Children’s Aid Society in New York City. The program included guaranteed college admission, employment, personal savings plans, medical services, and a “focus on skills and values related to lifetime sports, self-expression and family life and provides sex education and counseling services.”
And some new data from the Dept of Health and Human Services is on one hand encouraging—a new report indicates that 57% of teen females and 46% of males reported they would be ‘‘very upset’’ if they became pregnant right now.
However, the reports shows that the U.S. birth rate for females aged 15–19 was 39.1 births per 1,000 females, and that 13% of females and 19% of males reported they would be ‘‘a little pleased’’ or ‘‘very pleased’’ if this happened.
So like with the Gloucester young women, plenty of young women and men need to be awakened to the realities of parenthood coming too soon in one’s life.
What did the Gloucester interview make you think about? What do you think are ways to address the unintended and intended teen pregnancy?
Laura, in your photograph of the girl holding the baby, her expression looked anything BUT happy to me. She looked unhappy and confused, and if I were to assign a caption to the photo, it would be “how did I let this happen?”
I often think it would be beneficial for teens to talk with moms who would be totally honest and tell them how HARD motherhood really is. I don’t think teens are told that nearly enough, and as a result, they have a completely unrealistic idea of what parenting really demands of them. If teen girls knew how hard motherhood is, especially during the newborn, infant and toddler stages, I really think many of them might begin saying an emphatic NO to boyfriends who demand sex.
Too often, people who lay out all the facts about how hard motherhood is are told they’re “being so negative,” which is nonsense of course. Since when are FACTS “negativity?” When people are pushing teens into motherhood for their own reasons, that’s when.
Indeed she does not look happy. Talking about how hard it is remains taboo…why–pronatalist dogma is to romanticize motherhood, not get real about it.. Now I do see moms out there talking about it, but sure she the “this will be the best experience of your life” so much more!
Obviously better access to birth control and less of a taboo on sex in general might help. I remember in high school when my friends would ask me to buy them condoms because “they were too embarrassed.” Also, giving girls easier access to abortions would also help. Just because one accidentally gets pregnant doesn’t mean they MUST have a baby. All these parental notification and consent laws are forcing many teen girls into having babies. Also, I think it’s total BS that governmental money will not pay for abortion. I pay taxes all the time for things I don’t agree with, the anti-choice people can do the same. I remember a friend in high school who got pregnant and wanted an abortion, but she was too afraid to tell her parents. She tried to get the money together for it, but couldn’t in time to get the procedure. She ended up having the kid. And, it’s sad to say, but I truly feel that it ruined everything she wanted in life. There is just no reason that a woman should be forced into having a baby simply because she can’t afford the procedure.
As for the mindset of these girls… I don’t get it. In my family, we are all fairly convinced that my brother’s 15 year old girlfriend got pregnant on purpose just to get out of her house. It’s not that anything was wrong with her family (no abuse or anything), they were just “poor.” Both parents worked minimum wage jobs and it was 2 adults and 2 teenage girls living in a small 2 bedroom apartment. I’m sure our nice, big, 5 bedroom home and our parent’s upper middle class income looked like a way out for her. I guess she didn’t realize that my brother would have to give up going to college to get a job to support them, and without a degree it wasn’t going to be a very good job. She also never finished high school. They ended up having 1 more kid before they got divorced after 5 years of marriage. Where is she now? She and my nieces live in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment, and she is getting divorced for the 4th time at the age of 34 years old.
Do you think she knows she might have had a real shot at the life she wanted if she just hadn’t gotten pregnant? I mean, how do we as a society convince these girls that having babies as a teen will never make your life better, only worse?
I don’t have the answers, just lots of questions like everyone else.
Kate, the story about your brother’s girlfriends who is 4 times divorced is just sad. As long as society puts having babies on a pedestal of sorts, young women are going to be prone to making bad decisions for themselves if they think having a kid will solve whatever problem they have, from finding love, purpose, or in her case, naively thinking it will get her out of a poor house. What an example of how that decision at 15 affected the rest of her life and not in a good way….
Well, let these girls talk to ME, because I’ll have no problem whatsoever telling them that motherhood is a lot of HARD WORK, especially during the newborn, infant, toddler and terrible two stages. 🙂
Even when one wants to be a parent as I did, there were some days when parenting was anything but fun. You are 100% correct about the pronatalist dogma romanticing motherhood, and I lost patience with that nonsense ages ago. It’s almost like there’s some kind of rule among many mothers that says, “don’t tell childless girls or young women how hard motherhood REALLY is; they might decide never to have children!” I know there’s no such rule (not that I’m aware of anyway), but it sure seems that way at times.
I would tell teen girls, “do yourself a favor; don’t even THINK about motherhood until after you’ve finished high school and either college or vocational school, and had a few years of job training first. do you really want to be stuck with a screaming baby and changing endless diapers when you’re in school and trying to study for several final exams?”
Susan, Well there is a pronatalist “rule” that it’s taboo to talk about how hard motherhood is…I know I harp on pronatalism a lot but it is a bedrock of beliefs that need to change in so many ways, and in this case, would greatly help young women not to think pregnancy at their age would be a great thing~I think you’d be a great person for young women to talk to to get the real scoop : )!
Laura, I totally agree that the pronatalist “rule” that says never talk about the HARD WORK of motherhood needs to be broken. I’ll cheerfully break it for anyone who gives me the chance.
I think it’s idiotic to give false ideas to girls and young women that motherhood is some kind of “walk in the park.” That doesn’t help these girls or children born to mothers who weren’t nearly ready to be good moms because they were still kids themselves. I will not support teen motherhood because there are just too many negatives for both teen moms and their children involved for me to do so.
Laura, I had forgotten to add in my previous comment that a few years ago I had written an opinion column for an online publication called “The Cheers.” One of the column topics was “Parenting: A Job That Does NOT Fit All.” I think it does raise some of the hardships of parenting, although certainly not all of them. 🙂
If you’d like me to share that, I’ll be happy to post the link for you and everyone.
Susan, Yes, post the link please!
Hi Laura, here’s the link. Enjoy. 🙂
Don’t forget that these babies come with apartments, food stamps, some cash payments, and health insurance. There is no guarantee that a girl or woman will find a job that enables her to have these things right away, if at all, and the effort and uncertainty of school and the job market can be very scary and tiring. Contrast this to the guaranteed lifestyle safety net provided once pregnant in addition to the built-in social status and ego-stroking involved in doing, “The Hardest and Most Important Job in the World.” Finally, it’s easier to let nature take its course and have unprotected sex than to say “no” or plan for contraception, so many factors make child-bearing the default position for women who don’t have other skills or motivations.
Terry–that is exactly what needs to change–the social status of doing the most important job in the world when they are not prepared to do that job, and how it not only affects her life forever, but her children’s….
Odd it is that TELEVISION has been and is not going to soon stop GLAMORIZING IGNORANCE! Teen moms are that way because teen boys (or someone elses husband who has them for a baby sitter for his other brats) is out to IMPREGNATE THEM without care of the outcome! I am, for one, totally sick and tired of society giving KUDOS to Octomoms who are leeches on the economy by breeding and never putting forth the FINANCIAL OR MENTAL ABILITY TO RAISE KIDS!
If you think it is all Miraculous and that no SEED was used to make those unwanted, unplanned and PRONE TO BE NEGLECTED, ABUSED AND RAPED children then you are also TELEVISION WORTHY IN THE IGNORANCE THAT IS Teen Mom Programming!
PS: Teen Mom in NC living in a CULT in a literal CULT is all too okay seeing BAPTISTS are of the same crap that most idiots who believe in MIRACLE BABY MAKINGS too! That is a sign we the people…are just prone to love the Ignorant!
FIX YOUR BOYS..>STOP LETTING THEM SCREW UP OUR WORLD WITH OVERPOPULATION, AND THEN TELL ME ABOUT WOMEN! ha!
Child free, loving it, doing it BY CHOICE and don’t plan on having to have any ever so I won’t have to be forced to hang out with IDIOTS who BREED! That is where no one sees this is also A CULT! A very stupid one to wanna ever join!
Breeder Cults should END NOW!
Laura, I decided to do a little experiment last week; to say on one or two of the discussion forums I regularly participate on how HARD being a mother is, just to see what the reaction would be. I specifically said that girls and women who become moms will face the following hardships: 1. loss of freedom, 2. loss of money and 3. loss of sleep, just for starters.
One of the forum participants really took offense at what I said, and she started making up all sorts of nonsense about me and my motives for raising those issues. She even went so far as to say that I was “trying to scare everyone out of child-rearing,” which I found hilarious, actually.
So I experienced first hand what the consequences of breaking the pronatalist rules were. However, that doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I now have more of a “bring it on” attitude than I did before I started my little experiment. There does seem to be a metaphorical “wall of silence” around the hardships that motherhood presents. But I’m going to take a metaphorical sledgehammer to that wall and do my best to knock it down. 🙂
Susan. You go with that sledgehammer-I really gets me that it remains taboo to talk about the realities of motherhood–you will always be supported here at La Vie! Keep writing about what happens as you take that hammer out there!
Thanks, Laura, I’ll be happy to keep you updated, and I will keep adding more about the realities of motherhood at the other forum.
A question; is there a childfree forum in addition to yours where the participants talk about their reasons why they didn’t have children and what they enjoy about being childfree? I’m not looking to post there or copy anyone, I am just seeking accurate information directly from childfree folks. If there’s a section here at La Vie that I might have missed before that covers that topic, please let me know. I just figure the more CF sources available, the better. 🙂
Susan, There is not a special section on La Vie CF for reasons people don’t have children or what they enjoy about it–instead I like to cover an array of topics in which those points are discussed. You have probably been to it before, but The Childfree Life forum has lots of categories for discussion threads and I bet you’ll find strings there….
Hi Laura, just thought I’d add a brief update on what I’m jokingly going to call “The Sledgehammer Chronicles.” 🙂
On the other discussion forum I mentioned I added a new thread basically asking WHY it was so important to “be fruitful and multiply,” especially with the world population figure at a staggering seven billion. A couple of conservative posters replied; one with moronic insults, the other with at least an attempt at civil discussion. She made the usual (and I think inaccurate) argument that “there is no reason why women with children can’t enjoy some or all of these things,” followed by “although it is admittedly difficult to do them when the children are younger.”
Funny how some of these parents can’t seem to see the glaring contradiction in such a statement, isn’t it? Yet the ones who presently ONLY the “rosy” side of parenting miss the contradiction every time.