Friday, June 20, 2008

Sisterhood of the Maternity Pants

In case you missed these news stories, Jamie Lynn Spears, 16 year old actor and sister of Brittany, had her baby yesterday and a Time magazine investigation discovered a "pregnancy pact" in a seaside town in Massachusetts, resulting in 17 pregnancies in the local high school this year. It seems that a group of young women, all 16 or younger, took a pact to get pregnant together and support each other when they have babies. At the moment, it seems that all were having sex with men in their twenties who were not their boyfriends.

I can hear the cries of those who see this as the result of a morally lax culture, further evidence of the decline of morality.

Now, it's hard for this minister and sexologist not to think along with many, "what were they thinking?" Surely in today's world, somewhere along the line, these young woman had to know that unprotected sex was not a good idea, that having a child as a teenager would change their lives forever. It's easy to be glib and think they weren't thinking.

But, I'm guessing they were. If national research holds up, these girls probably came from homes where there was little discussion about sexuality or options for young women's futures being greater if parenthood is delayed until their twenties or later. I'm guessing some of these girls came from homes with too little supervision and a permissive atmosphere where they learned that teen sex wasn't such a big deal; conversely, some may have come from homes that were too strict, where they felt disconnected from their own family and sought to create their own. And they were thinking like early adolescents: concentrating on what would be fun about new babies, baby showers, extra attention, and someone who would love them unconditionally. I hope the community is help to reach out to them with compassion.

Of course, their individual stories may be different, but there is a clear message in these stories for my readers who are parents. Parents who talk openly and honestly about sexuality with their tween and teen children, including explicitly sharing their values about when sexual intercourse is appropriate (after high school, in a committed relationship, when engaged at marriage, YOUR value) have teens who wait longer. Telling your teen your hopes for their futures and offering your support results in teens who delay and who use contraception when they do become sexually active. Share your values, set limits for their dating behavior, offer your unconditional love. I talk more about all of this in my books "Beyond the Big Talk" and "What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know." Check out that website.

And start tonight's dinner conversation by asking your teens if they have heard about Ms. Spears and the "pregnancy pact." Ask them what they think. Listen. Share your values and hopes for them. Tell them you love them and your are there for them, and that their lives will be easier, perhaps better, if they wait to become parents until their adults.

It's not a complicated discussion. We'll be having it at my dinner table tonight. Let me know how it goes.

POST SCRIPT: See my longer blog on this issue at my blog on Huffington Post.


Karen Rayne, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for talking about this, Debra. I just wrote a post about the Gloucester High pact. In it, I said that girls need to feel that they are:

(1) in control of their lives, (2) can make a positive impact on the world, and (3) that they are loved for who they are and who they are becoming. For that matter, young men need the same thing. And note the careful wording: Teenagers need these things, they are not casual desires.

I think this dovetails closely with your point about supportive home environments that have open conversations about these issues. I hope all your readers go home and have this conversation - we'll be having the elementary school version of it around my dinner table!

You can read my whole post here:

Cynthia L. Landrum said...

Hi Debra,
I've been starting to get involved in my community's "Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative," and one thing that they've been saying is that there's a major correlation between teenage pregnancy and lack of hope. Rather than focus specifically on birth control, their focus is broader, focused on bringing hope into the live of girls in the highest risk population using the Carrera program. I'm wondering what you think of this approach. While I believe in education on sexuality, the hope piece makes sense to me, too. I know that in my own case, I was educated on sexuality and birth control, but a major reason I didn't want to have a baby as a teenager was because I had big plans for my life. I would love to hear your comments on this.

Susan Alexander said...

The timing of this story and the announcement of the birth of Jamie L Spear’s child is intriguing. I too, read and watched in amazement as the story unfolded. What I found equally fascinating is that the high school provides a day care center to its students. While that is great relative to keeping the teens in school – it also sends an interesting message that it’s ok to get pregnant and have children; much preferred over being open and straight about contraception not to mention that there are other alternatives. However, in this case I’m not certain that these young women who were engaging in sexual activity to have babies are individuals who need education about sexuality. They clearly know about sexual activity and what can happen. These women were consciously engaging in this activity to produce a child. These weren’t young women who “thought” they were in love or even in a relationship. They wanted to have a child and I’m suspecting to fill some void in their life an/or to fulfill some childish fantasy about having a baby. What’s clearly missing is being educated about how this baby will impact their lives now and forever. I also believe that these young women are more representative of who we as a culture have become – people who want immediate satisfaction and gratification and looking for that satisfaction outside of ourselves – whether it be in material goods or how we look. We’ve also become a “throw away” culture – if something doesn’t work or amuse us anymore – just get rid of it. I recently heard a statistic that indicated that most purchases made by US consumers gets thrown out or discarded within 7 months of purchase. Sadly I don’t think these girls have thought through the cost of their decision – the challenges and limitations that they will now face with this responsibility. I support you in your efforts about educating youth and parents about sexuality and I believe the issue is much deeper and more symptomatic of a more serious problem of people powerfully owning who they are and being responsible for their lives.

Debra W. Haffner said...

Cynthia, absolutely. Dr. Michael Carrera said a long time ago, "hope is the best contraceptive." That's what I meant about seeing a future in the post. But, they need BOTH the motivation and the means to prevent pregnancy. See my post for today, Monday, June 23rd.