Disturbing news out of Memphis, Tenn.: Since the school year started, there have been 90 students who reported being pregnant or have given birth. That is roughly 15 to 20 percent of the female population of the school. Considering we are only four months into the school year, that is a stunning number.
When I first heard about this, I immediately thought of the "pregnancy pact" phenomenon that came to light in 2008 when a Massachusetts school reported 18 pregnancies among high school students that appeared to be part of a conspiracy. In that case, there were reportedly a record number of students descending on the school nurse's office for pregnancy tests. When young students were told that their pregnancy tests were negative, they were, reportedly, more upset than those who were told that their tests were positive. Students who were told they were pregnant were reported to have immediately discussed baby shower plans with their equally excited friends. Some reports indicate that a homeless 24-year-old was responsible for impregnating many of the high-schoolers.
When I was a teenager, my mother's game plan for preventing pregnancy was to tell me that if I was stupid enough to get pregnant, I was on my own and would have to move out. As a teenager, threats didn't really do much for me. The bottom line was it wasn't the threat of eviction that prompted me to think carefully before having unprotected sex, but it was that I had no interest in getting pregnant at a young age. At the time, I think I recognized that a pregnancy would inhibit my ability to pursue any of the future aspirations that I had.
Teen pregnancy, for as long as I can remember, was something that caused shame and embarrassment. It was something that was not intended, but more a result of carelessness and/or a disregard for the reality of the ramifications of unprotected sex.
Today, it seems that teen pregnancy is something that is exploited and celebrated by reality superstars. Indeed, there are young moms who are earning a good salary and are becoming famous simply by allowing video cameras to record their every move as a teen mother.
The pregnancy epidemic in Massachusetts uncovered a perception among teens that it was somewhat of a status symbol to become pregnant while in high school. Reality T.V. these days seems to be doing the same.
The reality T.V. exploitations have, indeed, included some heartfelt mothering moments that demonstrate the pure and dynamic bond between mother and child that is inevitable no matter what the age of the mother. What do you suppose is the result for those insecure teens whose existence is marked by loneliness and a lack of love?
When I was pregnant (as an adult), I remember feeling so special because of the way I was treated by others. For the entire nine months of both pregnancies I recall being treated with kid gloves by friends, family, and strangers who would constantly ask how I was feeling or whether I needed assistance.
Now imagine as a young, impressionable girl who has no support system, but an incessant sense of loneliness and feeling unloved. Suddenly, by becoming pregnant, your existence completely changes: Your friends are treating you like a porcelain doll; your boyfriend (hopefully, if he is still in the picture) is treating you like a queen; and you are being treated with special accommodations by school officials. Heck yeah, where do I sign up?
As adults, we are doing a tremendous disservice to teenagers if we are not teaching girls and boys the realities of having unprotected sex. Teen parenting is not glamorous. It is not going to get you famous or lucrative T.V. contracts. It is also not going to assist you in achieving your goals academically. And, no matter how special a pregnancy might make you feel, you will certainly forget those moments when you are missing prom, taking private tutoring lessons to graduate, and spending sleepless nights rocking your baby to sleep.
Ninety is a big number. It should get everyone's attention.
Instead of glamourizing teen pregnancy, let's teach kids the reality of it.