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Girls should be encouraged to put themselves first for a few years

May 12, 2002|BY TIM ROWLAND

Health officials said this week that nearly one out of 10 girls in Washington County ages 18 and 19 are having babies.

And they say there's nothing to do in Hagerstown.

But what's even more amazing is that out of the girls surveyed, 85 percent said they were happy about it. They wanted to get pregnant. Baby a good thing. Real positive step forward in life, even though in most cases, ole pops wasn't going to stick along for the ride.

No matter, girls still thought getting pregnant was a great thing. Great for who? Certainly not great for the kid. I wonder if these girls know that as many as 85 percent of kids in juvenile jails grew up in fatherless homes. I wonder if they care that their little papless papoose is 20 times more likely to end up in adult jail, nine times more likely to be institutionalized, 10 times more likely to become an addict, 14 times more likely to commit rape and 20 times more likely to suffer behavioral disorders.

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(What of the boy's responsibility? Responsibility? Boys are beyond it. Boys aren't even responsible at age 41, believe me I know. Girls are smarter. Girls may occasionally listen. If I were king I'd handcuff the dad to the kid until age 18 - whichever one got there first. But for now I'm not even going to waste my breath.)

Of course what pregnant girl thinks about the life she's bringing into the world, and what kind of future - or lack of a future - the child can expect? She's thinking, obviously, about herself. "I think we need to start addressing the self-esteem. What is her expectation in life? Where does she think she is going to go?" said county health officer William Christoffel.

Indeed. Where teen moms go, as a general thing, is the welfare line. About 80 percent of teen moms eventually end up there. But welfare is drying up, kids.

That means you will need jobs. Not "a job," jobs. Work that requires no diploma doesn't pay. So all of a sudden the day's starting at 5:30 every morning, and that first shift will just about pay for your daycare costs. So it's off to another job later, where a tankful of gas for an old clunker will take close to a half-day's work to earn.

And if you're looking forward to coming back to a warm fuzzy home for one of those tasty looking meals you see on the Lifestyle pages, well you can pretty much write that off. Have you priced shallots lately? Fortunately macaroni and cheese is still fast and cheap; unfortunately it destroys the health of you and your child, so get used to the line out in back of the Community Free Clinic.

And that wreck of an apartment downtown or in the projects can be so charming with the dishes you haven't had time for and with the guys drinking and fighting in the streets at 2 a.m., when you haven't gotten to sleep and baby's screaming and the alarm's going off in another two hours for another full day of exactly the same hot, sweaty thing you did before.

If you're a high school girl thinking about getting pregnant, may I humbly suggest that you are better than all this?

I can virtually guarantee that you are more loved than you think. Prettier than you think. Smarter than you think. Have more potential than you think.

Call it unfair, but the harsh truth is that the odds out there in the world are overwhelmingly against a single, teen mom. A few make it. They somehow work in a few college hours at a time. They sacrifice all social life and they absolutely work themselves to the bone to get a good job, a nice home for their kids and a life. There is a word for these women: Heroes. Heroes, because they are that rare. Teen boys who stick with and provide for the child they have created are known by the same word for the same reason.

Here's the difference putting off pregnancy for just a few short years can make. It gets you a high school degree. At minimum, it can get you into the community college and a two-year certificate. You may have to work that fast-food job for a few days a week, but with the light of a goal in sight it is much brighter.

Now you've put off pregnancy for three years. But you will step out of college into a job that will immediately begin paying you $10,000 more a year, while working 20 fewer hours a week. And you're saving maybe $400 a month on daycare, and that's getting close to getting into one of those tidy, nicely landscaped apartment complexes you've admired outside the city. You want love, so you get a cat.

And you buy a slightly used car instead of a heap. You can afford to go out to a nice restaurant to eat twice a week, but you make one more small sacrifice. You only go once and every month you take the $50 you save and put it into a mutual fund. And by the time you are ready to retire, even if you save no other dime, that fund will likely have grown to $430,000.

A nice guy on his way to success comes along. Does he want the girl in the first scenario? Or does he want a happenin' chick with a nice pad, a slick set of wheels and a decent job who's going to be worth a half-million-dollars when she's 62?

You are good enough, plenty good enough, to be that young woman, and probably a lot more. Putting off pregnancy for 60 months or so is all it takes. Aren't you worth that? I think so.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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