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letters to the editoir - 12/2/02

December 02, 2002

Listening to teen-age girls is good for them - and you



To the editor:


After reading Meredith Fouche's letter to the editor, I felt compelled to respond. Fouche's letter focused on some statistics given by the Washington County Health Department which reports that nearly one in every 10 females in Washington County between the ages of 18 and 19 are or will become pregnant.

Fouche seemed to use this information for the basis of his opinion that society has a "me now" attitude, specifically the teenagers. Was it society in general he was addressing or the "teenage mothers who become welfare recipients"?

After reading the last sentence in his letter, which addresses "conceiving a child at a young age and out of wedlock" as the most irresponsible behavior, I think it is fair to assume that his thoughts were more about teenage mothers in our county than they were about society in general.

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While I do believe statistics are important, it is also important to remember that they are numbers with a story behind them. It is very unfair to generalize about teenagers and call them all sexually carefree, credit-card spendthrifts and addict types. Being a former family support worker for a program helping first-time parents in Washington County, I feel obligated to share what I have learned about some of these teenage parents.

First, let me comment on the "me first" attitude. Typically the teenagers with this type of attitude are not the single mothers/fathers on welfare. Teenagers who are in possession of credit cards usually come from financially comfortable families.

In regard to the other behaviors described in Fouche's letter, I feel it's important to remember that they are teenagers. With their young age comes an explosion of questions about themselves and where they fit in. It is an extremely confusing time - one that I would not want to go back and revisit if given the chance. Think back to your adolescence. Even as adults we still slip, make bad choices and make mistakes.

These teenagers do not grow up saying, "I want to be a teen parent living on welfare."

So how or why do children end up in exactly that situation? Sadly, the root of the problem seems to lie with the children's parent(s), guardian(s) or lack thereof. As I worked with some of these teens and began to really know them, they began to confide in me.

They shared heart-breaking stories and nightmarish childhoods. Most had either been abandoned and/or abused by the "adults" in their lives. Much of the time their parents were addicts of some kind and unable to care for themselves, much less their children.

As young children they were left in unsafe living conditions repeatedly and grew up learning how to take care of their parents as well as themselves (survival). Seldom were they given the love or nurturing most of us take for granted.

In addition, many of the teens I worked with came from families where it was not uncommon for there to be several siblings, each with different fathers. This is what they grew up with and this is what they know.

It takes a long time for them to "un-learn" or undo the patterns they were taught while growing up - but most were willing to try because they wanted a better life for themselves and their children.

The reason I was able to get my teen parents to open up to me was because I listened to them. I showed no judgment, and didn't lecture them on right and wrong. I did, however, offer them gentle guidance, a little encouragement and a genuine smile. I was always amazed at how little it took to make their day.

Fouche's letter also seemed to generate an undertone of "us and them." "Us" being the people who are okay and "them" being the people who are irresponsible. This attitude is disturbing because it only contributes to a problem and does nothing to help improve a situation.

Our youth need our guidance and support while trying to make their way in the world. I have watched some of these "welfare moms" work very hard at turning their lives around.

I would also like to add that I have been a part of, and witnessed, many of our area's youth doing fabulous volunteer work in our community.

Not only were these teenagers working hard but they were smiling too! They have helped our elders, our disabled, our poor and our sick.

Watching these teenagers touch the lives of those around them has been one of most valuable experiences I have had. I would encourage all who have a poor image of our youth to start volunteering with them to see just how wonderful they can be.

T. Marie Shoe

Hagerstown




We don't want Conococheague School to be closed



To the editor:


We were surprised and confused regarding Washington County School Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan's recent statements to The Herald-Mail. Superintendent, we would like some clarification of your statements.

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