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?

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