Thursday, April 26, 2012

Preventing Teen Pregnancy

I was checking out this season's hip swimwear fashions in Seventeen magazine, when I saw an ad notifying me that May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Now, I'm not very fond of the idea of teen pregnancy. Then again, I'm not very fond of the idea of pregnancy in general. The idea of bearing offspring, in which I can preserve my genes, is intriguing, but I've more or less decided that I don't want to curse another generation with the genes I have. Moreover, I have no desire whatsoever to put in the massive effort that's required to raise a kid (let alone more than one). But I also realize that other people have different opinions (not to mention skills and resources) than me on that.

So it occurs to me that there's something a little odd about a national movement to prevent anyone's pregnancy. You really have to ask the question: who's getting pregnant? And are they doing it intentionally? I think it's widely believed that teens who get pregnant didn't really want to, they just weren't properly educated about contraception, or were too lazy to put forth the effort, or weren't expecting to become sexually active, without realizing what fate (and their or their peers' hormones) had in store for them. Certainly, the solution to this problem is more education, that is more easily accessible, and to kids of all ages (better too soon than too late).

But what about teens who want to get pregnant? After all, it's as much a biological impetus as the powerful impetus teens have to become sexually active in the first place (at the risk of sounding sexist: possibly more so for girls than for guys). Personally, I would advise against a person choosing to have a baby until they have the means to care for one (which, ideally, requires a sturdy home and a stable income, not to mention other skills required to navigate the pitfalls of modern life). After all, it's plain irresponsible to have a kid if you don't have the means (and certainly if you don't have the intention - that applies to guys as much as to girls) to care for one.

Now, in the modern age, we have this conception of childhood which extends until age 18 or 22, in which a kid doesn't grow up until he/she's graduated high school, maybe even attended college, and only then is expected to get a job and become an "adult". We can argue the merits of this system of extended childhood (I've certainly read about its faults), but whether good or bad, ultimately, it's just one possible life plan, and not the only one that's valid or even necessarily commendable. So I would hope that every teen considers their unique position, before deciding whether or not to have a child, but I wouldn't expect every single one to properly come to the decision to wait.

But, then you'll have teens (and this problem certainly isn't limited to teens) who decide to have a kid for selfish or immature reasons. They'll want a kid despite not having the means to care for it. What do we do in these cases? Naturally we fear that the baby will either suffer, or will require the resources of secondary caregivers (like the teen's parents, perhaps), who, irresponsibly, weren't in (or whose opinions weren't given proper weight) on the decision to have the baby in the first place. Those cases are inevitably going to be more complex, and the source of the problem is likely going to involve complicated social factors. I have read, for example, that one possible motivation for a teen to get pregnant is that it is a solution to the conundrum that so many teens face - that of desiring adult responsibility while still being treated like a child. Having a baby is like an instant "grow up" card - and, after all, if parents are the ones with all the power, then to acquire power, one needs only to become a parent. Right?

Regardless of the causes and the issues involved, the 'solution' isn't going to be easy. Education is certainly important. Teens are going to want to become sexually active, and I don't see any good reason to combat that. All the "wait until you're older" programs I've seen carry too much moral baggage which contributes to the stigmatization of sexuality that cripples our culture's ability to deal honestly with our sexual natures (and obstructs our journey to discovering pleasure). Information about safe sex practices is all the more important, then. Teens (and younger kids - waiting leads to accidents) need to know their options, and how important it is that they use them.

This still isn't going to convince all teens to hold off on pregnancy, or to keep them from getting pregnant unintentionally. So we also need to make sure that we have systems in place to help those teens who do get pregnant - help them to make the right decisions, which isn't necessarily to avoid having the baby in the first place, but to do what's best for all the people involved (baby included - even if, maybe, that means sparing the baby a troubled, loveless life, in specific instances). But ultimately, stigmatizing teens who get pregnant isn't going to solve any problems, and I can only see it contributing to the problems that already exist. I've never seen a case where stigmatization accomplished anything productive, other than to stroke the ego and sate the moral complexes of those wielding power irresponsibly over others.

And if we care at all about individual choice - which is the foundation of liberty and diversity - then we must first ask the question, "what do you want"? And then the next question should be, "what can we do to help?" With the intention of making it work out best for everyone involved, taking into account their unique needs and desires (which, for a teen, may include 'having a baby').

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