Thursday, June 26, 2008

On babymaking pacts

By now, everyone in America knows about the sixteen-year-old girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts who intentionally got pregnant.

JAN: After the town was overwhelmed by media attention -- calls from Oprah, the whole nine yards, the high school principal began to back away from a notion that there might have been a "pact." But whatever you want to call it, there are an unusual number of young girls (18 by last count) carrying babies in high school.

The problem, I think, isn't that the controversy is stirring debate. But that its stirring the wrong debate. Birth control education versus abstinence education. Neither is relevant if the girls set out with the goal of getting pregnant.
These girls don't need education about contraception. They need education about reality. They need to learn that no one is going to make a film out of their noble decision to give up their baby to Jennifer Garner (JUNO.) And that paparazzi isn't going to even try to get a telephoto shoot of their expanding waistlines (Jamie Spears) And that Gisele Bundchen (spelling) is not going to send them designer baby gifts to enhance her media image.
Yes, just like Queen Victoria got the credit for influencing generations of sexual repression, I think the glamorization of unwed mothering by celebrities is to blame for the resurgence of the teenage pregnancy rate, after being on the wane for fifteen years.

But no one really wants to call out celebrities and suggest any sense of societal responsibility that might be too inhibiting to their lifestyles. And the media really isn't going to blame the media. So we talk about contraception.
That's my take anyway. What do you think?
ROBERTA: Honestly, I think it's a very sad story. I completely agree that talk about contraception is off the mark here. What seems to me more on target is the self-esteem and future dreams of this group of girls.

If the girls set out with the goal of getting pregnant, they couldn't have been thinking too hard about college and careers. That seems sad to me. They have no idea how limited their lives may end up as teenage mothers. Yes it's possible to go on to school but it sure is going to be a lot harder. (And that's not even getting into the lives of the babies, starting out with young mothers and non intact families...)
HANK: Can you imagine telling your mother, at age 16, that you were pregnant? We hardly said the P word.

The possibility that the "pact" story is completely untrue aside, it's indisputable that more than a dozen teen aged girls in one lovely town have unalterably changed their lives--and their children's lives!--and could not possibly know by how much. I mean--remember, there are going to be babies.

Maybe it's--the unreality of their lives? Movies, TV, glitzy magazines, video games, advertisements, maternity clothes, Demi Moore on Vanity Fair,--all making an unreal reality. Jamie Spears? Is pregnant at 16, and it's a one day wonder. And it's always more about the "mother" than the baby. It's so sad.

First, it was those little dogs. Now it's babies. The latest fashion accessory. But these items, you can't return to the store.


  1. I am reminded of something I either wrote or read somewhere. "You are free to act, but not free to choose the consequences!" I use that to explain universal law and its relation to Karma.

    I totally agree with Roberta and Jan in terms of the subject, and a lesson in "reality", as Jan suggests might be a great boon here. Actually, it's a little late for the girls already pregnant. They will get their lesson. With a person in high school, it is a challenge to expose them to things they can relate to. In our high school, there was a class where the kids designed a "baby". Some used a bag of flour. The objective was that the "baby" must be attended to all the time. Can not be left alone and always needed to have some one with it to take care of it wherever they went. It had to be fed at regular intervals and the feeding was recorded for each day for 30 days. It was quite an eye-opener for the kids and definitely a major contributer to local birth control.

    You can blame media and you can blame peer pressure etc. but the real blame from my perspective is with the parents. And admittedly, some children may come from broken homes, still that's not an excuse for not making certain you know what your kids are doing and what their influences are.

    For me our lives are a mirror of the personal issues we need to address. For instance, something that could help here is a closer mother-daughter relationship, where feelings are honestly shared. To me that seems to be where the divide begins. A parent needs to make the effort to understand the culture in which their kids are growing up and see what parts of that culture attract them. Music is one way. When my kids were growing up I learned about "Smash Mouth" and "Smashing Pumpkins" etc. I even learned to "rap". In fact, I wrote some "raps" about being yourself. They laughed - "Oh, Dad." But they knew I was interested in what they were doing. They knew they were important to me. Was I a great parent... don't know... but I made a major effort to understand the divide, both cultural and age, even at the risk of looking stupid. It took guts to do that. Real guts, let me tell you. It wasn't easy for me. This is what parents need to do today.

    As a result of those efforts I always had kids hanging around our house. I'd talk to the friends of my kids.

    "Hey, how you doing? What's your hardest subject? Why? Do you think it's worth it to learn that?" I just let them be where they were at. It was fine how they were and I wanted them to know that. I encouraged them to be truthful to themselves. It's fine I'd tell them - now you know exactly where you are. You've got a choice now.

    The biggest teaching I ever had came from a very, very dear friend - Leonard Jacobson an Australian Mystic - "Mike, Give God Honesty and He will give you truth!"

    In this day and age especially, parents must make the effort to connect with their children - otherwise other energies will.

    Which do you want? You can give kids a sacred piece of yourself or you can let them get what they get.

    I never needed to stuggle with that decision. It was actually delivering that made me struggle. But, somehow, I did it. I overcame all my "reasons" not to. The fears, the not looking good, the blowing my cool.

    Sometimes that's what life demands and you just need to step up to the plate if you are going to have the things that you want out of this life.

  2. I think I might have misspoke. I think the paparazzi MAY wind up following those girls around with cameras afterall -- the story has gotten that much attention.

    And that's what the girls were after, wasn't it?

    I agree with you Mike, the parents are critical, but I also remember something someone -- I think it was Bork (The conservative supreme court candidate who got ditched.) said: Popular culture is like the air, you can't help breathng it.
    I severely limited television exposure in my house when the kids were growing up. And I refused to have any fashion magazines or celebrity magazines in my house. But my daughter still managed to inhale the need to be underweight. (Luckily, she is fine now, but don't get me started on that topic....) and I feel for working parents or single parents who can't monitor their kids like I did. I break from current opinion in thinking that all of us have a responsibility to society. And just like athletes are sanctioned for taking steroids and influencing kids, I think celebrities, fashion designers, and anyone who makes money off their image or product sales should be held accountable. If only in the court of public opinion.

  3. Make no mistake about it. Popular culture is enticing. If only that it provides a communcation medium for people to relate in and to.

    If there is anything wrong with a capitalistic society, that's it. Capitalism needs to be balanced with some degree of (shudder - hate to use the word) moral obligation.

    But, look, even the people setting the example need to deal with their choices. It's just the rush of the paparazzi and media may dampen it a little. But, looking under the skin - wow lots of lessons going down.

    There is one sin in the Catholic chuch that I agreed with in the 50's and that was called the sin of "scandal". And, by the way it was eliminated in the late 50's.

    That basically involved not pulicizing or idolizing a person's mistakes or immoral behavior.

    That's really the kind of thing you seem to be referencing.

    So... if we want a holistic world ... we need to create that world.

  4. Good grief...I had to google the story because I guess I was the one person in America who hadn't heard about it. (I got the Shaq video late, too..)
    The scary thing is that someone is probably buying their story right now.
    I know it's not funny, but I am, after all, ME - maybe Angelina Jolie will adopt them all?

  5. As a parent, you can't always know where your kid is or what she's up to. But parents definitely need to start talking to their daughters from an early age about responsibility and consequences of actions. And they need to reinforce self esteem. I know it might not reel in all those hormones, but maybe some bit of sense will stick.

  6. Yeah, Karen, I'm trying to remember how and when my mother talked to me about this stuff--I remember, easily, the instructions to wipe off all the countertops when we cleaned up the kitchen, to make the bed evey morning, to do homework before watching Your Hit Parade.

    But: "don't get pregnant?" On purpose or otherwise? I just don't think that was stated. I mean--who would want to? And if you did--yikes, you'd be whisked off to "away" and never be heard of again.

    But what baffles me is that maybe the girls DO know the consequences? And don't care? And figure someone will take care of them? And I'm wondering whether the values you and I (And the rest of us here) have about self-esteem and personal responsibillity --are just absent? And why?

  7. Hank

    Exactly my point. Are the values absent? Is this generation all about me, as some have stated.

    As, you said "whisked" away does come to mind. This was quite a pregnancy disincentive in itself. Things were the same in Indy and good old NJ in that regard.

    You hit the nail on the head.

    Values of self-esteem and personal responsibillity --are just absent? And why?

    At a not so subtle level that's probably what set me off above. And I do apologize for that!

  8. Having been an incredibly stupid teenager myself, I can tell you. You DO WHAT YOUR FRIENDS DO. Whether thats cheerleading, athletics, drugs or shoplifting. Kids are trying to figure out who they are so they often reject family values in an aggressive way. Generally that's temporary, and they can recover. But not with these kinds of consequences.

    That's the whole problem here, these young girls only understand the glamor part of motherhood, they don't understand the stakes.

    And they can't really, they are too young and impressionable. That's why I think its incumbent on the people making the impression to understand their responsibility.

    And I got the number wrong, it's 17teenagers in Gloucester, not 18. By the way, I heard on the radio today that People Magazine is in town interviewing. So these girls get to be little mini-celebrities themselves.


  9. I think Roberta is right in that these girls have a very limited view of their lives and, as others have stated, an unrealistic view, perhaps influenced by popular culture. They are looking for a forever relationship, someone to love who will love them unconditionally--what you would hope they would get from their families. I suspect they are afraid of life after high school and don't have enough confidence in themselves or their circumstances to face an unknown future. If the "pact" story has any basis, they also seem to be clinging to each other. And just how do they think they are going to be raising their children together? Swapping babysitting time, so everyone gets "time off"? So then you have, say, four teen mothers watching eight babies? They seem to have gotten the idea that raising children is not work, and that someone is going to kick in to help support them. The rude awakening will come at the expense of their children. This story is getting a lot of attention because it's an anomaly for Gloucester, but it's nothing unusual for many of our urban high schools. We really aren't doing enough as a society to help our young people believe in and achieve a brighter future for themselves.

  10. Is there a glamorous view of motherhood? Wow.

  11. Younger teens (12 & 14) that I know are referring to these teen moms as "loser girls." I'll say.

    Boys assassinate celebrities to get fame. Girls make pregnancy pacts. Both are stupid and destructive to themselves and to others. Much has been made of the impact on the girls' lives, and some has been spoken about the babies' lives. Don't forget the grandparents' lives. Grandparents who will now never be able to retire because the money they should be saving for retirement is going to raise their grandchildren.

    Is it too late to go back to the time when we thought that unwed pregnancy wasn't a glamourous thing?

  12. Victoria,
    I'm with you. I know its harsh, but I'm starting to think the whole stigma thing had a valuable purpose.