Teen pregnancy on the rise

Anita Babbitt

While watching the show “Teen Mom” on MTV, my friends and I cringe as we see young girls, even younger than we are, faced with the challenges of coping with unplanned and generally unwanted pregnancies. Watching them juggle school and deal with emotional detachment from their friends and family makes me wonder why anyone is against teaching teens about safe sex and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
According to the Center for Disease Control, one third of young women in the United States become pregnant before the age of 20, and eight in 10 of these pregnancies are unwanted.
Being a teen mom is stressful. The New York Times reports that 80 percent of the time pregnancy drives these young women to drop out of school. Without a high school diploma, it is much harder to get a job that pays decent wages. The drop-out rate alone illustrates the profound effect that teenage pregnancy has and demonstrates why something needs to be done to lower the teen pregnancy rate.
We need to educate teenagers about ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies. They need to be told that while abstinence is the only sure way to not get pregnant, there are options to substantially reduce the risk if they choose to have sex, including condoms and birth control pills.
Unfortunately, many adults do not want to face the fact that young adults will have sex no matter what their parents may say. The idea of providing a broad range of information in addition to “abstinence only” has become a highly political issue.
Interestingly, the pregnancy rate is much higher in the “red states” – majority Republican – than in the “blue states” – majority Democrat. The CDC reports that the red states have higher teen pregnancy rates; the majority of them have rates between 39 and 65 percent, while the majority of blue states have a rate below 38 percent.
One reason why red states have a higher pregnancy rate is that an increasing number of red state school districts are adopting abstinence-only sex education and some local churches are encouraging young adults to take virginity pledges. This lack of education about safe sex seems to be contributing to high teen pregnancy rates.
In today’s world, though, it is unrealistic to believe that teenagers will wait for marriage. Popular culture – through books, TV, magazines – reinforces every day that it is accepted to have sex before marriage. Some of these sources even glorify pregnant teens.
Sarah Palin is a strong believer in teaching abstinence before marriage and advocates a “pro-life” position. It was extremely surprising to find that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant yet not married. Instead of being hidden away, Bristol was applauded for keeping the baby, and the media and her mother’s conservative supporters made her out to be a brave girl.
Similarly, Britney Spears’s sister, Jamie Lynn, became pregnant at the age of 16 and was also not married. She got a People Magazine cover story and was also portrayed as a strong girl for taking on the challenge of having a child at that age. When young adults like these two are made out to be heroes for having their children in their teen years, young girls might think they could be seen as a hero too.
In reality, though, it is much harder to raise a child, especially as a teenager. These two young girls are celebrities and have well-off families who can support them through school and help raise the child; most teenagers who become pregnant do not have this luxury.
The series “Teen Mom” shows its audience what it is really like to have a child at a young age and what it does to your life. These girls suffer rejection by their peers and family. They also have to take on the stress of caring for their children while going to school. This is what media should be projecting to the public to show that it is extremely difficult to take care of a child when you are so young.
I am not advocating having sex before marriage or that all young adults who get pregnant lead horrible lives. What I am saying is that many young people are choosing to have sex in their teen years and I believe all teenagers should be aware of what they are getting themselves into and should know that there are options out there if they do not want the responsibility of a child. Popular culture needs to take responsibility and show the harsh truth about being a teen mom.