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Too many students still view teen pregnancy as a positive thing

April 02, 2006|By Tim Rowland

Listening to the Washington County School Board and Health Department squabble over where to place blame for our unacceptably high teen pregnancy rate reminded me of a conversation I overheard in a high school hallway earlier this semester.

Two girls were registering for night school, and one remarked that her sister, a high school student, was pregnant. Asked if she were going to keep the baby, she replied: "She didn't want to, but her boyfriend is making her."

"Oh," the other replied. And then after a slight pause, "Is he still dealing crack?"

The answer was affirmative, providing a quintessential example of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Permit us to extinguish whatever slight glimmer of hope there may be and assume two things. When this child enters his first day of school, the crack-dealing boyfriend will not be there to see him get on the bus. The girl, however, will be free to see him get on the bus and will be there at noon when he gets home, because she will have no meaningful job.

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From there, we don't even need guesswork - all it takes is math. Crime statistics show us the boyfriend will eventually be caught and imprisoned. Recidivism statistics show us he will likely be in and out of jail throughout much of his adult life.

The girl may get her life together, stop at one child, buckle down and work part- time to put herself through college and turn her life around. If she does she will have flown in the face of overwhelming odds. More likely is a life of subsidized housing and more children, at least partially inspired by the prospect of more government money.

The hard-hearted who have no concern for the quality of these two human beings' lives might consider that over the next 20 years they could easily cost the community a half-million dollars in institutional time and living assistance. And this doesn't even consider the children who quite possibly will grow up to repeat the cycle all over again.

Now the question becomes, could a sex-ed class have prevented all this?

In Washington County, debating this is something of a fool's errand, because the only thing many of our population hate worse than teen pregnancy are classes designed to reduce teen pregnancy. Board members know that if they carpet bomb kids with sex-ed classes they will be howled out of office by the voters who will spare only enough breath to deride the next generation of "welfare queens" that they themselves indirectly are helping to create.

But beyond that, does another layer of sex-ed help? It is hard to believe that a young gentleman with the entrepreneurial spirit and free-enterprise wherewithal to engage in a healthy crack business doesn't know where babies come from.

As for the girls, the 1950s notion that a teenager could be blindsided today by the fact that unprotected sex leads to one in the oven, now seems positively quaint.

In a sea of high school students, what is more valuable to a young girl than an identity - the possibility of standing out in the crowd? They will wear outrageous hats, listen to outrageous music and say outrageous things all with the intent of being different from the rest. But this frantic desire to be somebody is thwarted because everyone else is wearing outrageous hats too.

So what is there to do for a girl, particularly one who deems she has no standout talent, no standout looks or no standout brain? She knows that nothing gets you noticed, looked upon or talked about in a high school hallway like pregnancy. Pregnancy is the express route from one in a million girls to one of a handful of women.

What those who wish to prevent teen pregnancy must understand, is that for many, a test-positive is no longer a horrible accident, it is an illuminating goal.

This isn't a situation that can be educated away, or dulled by a free condom on the lunch tray next to your bowl of soup. There is no educating those who do not wish to be educated.

At least not in the traditional way we have come to think of sex education. Today, sex education may be less important than economic education in preventing teen pregnancy. It's not enough to tell a kid that pregnancy is not an option, because it always is and always will be.

What needs to be made clear to the girls is that there is a better option. Pregnancy is a few months in the sun, the headrush of adulthood and then years of hard work and no money. Non-pregnancy is a nice apartment, trendy clothes and a savings account.

Ask the girl this: Which young women will be more appealing to a young man in five years - one with two kids in a project, or one with a nice car and a 401(k)?

Girls with a bleak outlook of their prospects and of themselves may believe this to be beyond their reach. Fortunately we have role models all around us to prove them wrong - women who may have thought they didn't have the talent, looks or style to succeed, but with some work discovered that lo and behold they had themselves a career and a meaningful life.

These role models aren't the female bluebloods who have become CEOs. They are the truer heroes who have gone from nothing to something. Those who can look a girl with a battered self-esteem in the eye and in all honesty say, "five years ago, I was just like you."

Sex education is a message of denial. Economic education is a message of fulfillment. Tell me which one has a better chance of impressing kids.

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