Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Monday, December 10, 2007

Teen Pregnancy Cringe Radio

I was listening to NPR's Tell Me More just now. I don't normally listen to the show, it just happened to be on. They're doing a segment on the recent rise in the teen pregnancy rate, which reverses a 15 year decline. (You can hear the whole thing here.)

Some folks theorize that the rise in teen pregnancy rates is linked to the rise in abstinence-only programs, on the crazy idea that you can't fight a biological imperative that's designed to let people make babies after they hit puberty (whether you believe in evolution or the "be fruitful and multiply" model of human development), with just a pledge and a promise ring.

However, you also have to look at the challenge. They followed up the public policy stuff with a Behind Closed Doors segment (where they talk about "sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable issues"), where host Michel Martin (who blogs here) interviews "Makaiya," a 17-year old DC-area teen who's 4 months pregnant.

And look, I'm sorry, I'm going to beat up on the unwed DC public school system-educated non-Hispanic Black teen mother-to-be, but Makaiya's also apparently a brain donor.

She says she knows about birth control, but she thought she couldn't get pregnant. Why? Because, "We had an oops."

When asked what an oops was, "He forgot to put on a condom." (Well, he didn't really forget...)

It's a little hard to understand because she whispers a lot (though it adds to the cringeworthiness of the interview, since it draws you in) -- apparently, in an earlier "oops" encounter, she had unprotected sex, went to the doctor and found she wasn't pregnant, which made her think she couldn't get pregnant.


But it's okay, because it's a blessing, because she knows she can have kids now. Proof of concept. Even though neither really wanted to have a baby. And he didn't even really want to have sex -- she had to throw herself at him to make him give in.

Why? "Hormones." (At first, I thought she said "Homo," which would have been perversely better.)

Why couldn't she try the pill or a patch? Because she had insurance, so she couldn't go to the hospital. (Wait, what?)

As to her family situation -- her dad is uninvolved, her mom had her first child at 13, and has "up to 10 kids." (Up to? Same father, though.) Her older sisters are both single moms, and one's babydaddy tried to kill her with a homemade abortion.

She says, "I'm not going to say that I didn't protect myself" from getting pregnant (well, you don't really have to), but it's a blessing anyway.

The interview is about 10 minutes long. It feels like it lasts forever.

What makes this interview especially cringeworthy is that, unless you're some sort of arch-conservative reveling in the wrongness of this, is that even though you know it's just one person, in this one interview, this poor girl has just reinforced every negative stereotype of the undereducated, oversexed, superficially and hypocritically religious (Abstain from premarital sex? No. Get an abortion? No, it was a blessing and God's will. Get married? No.), multigenerationally dependent, urban Black experience.

In the face of these challenges, how do you reduce teen pregnancy? I have no idea, other than maybe some draconian economic disincentives; mandatory reversible sterilization (for all races and both genders, implemented immediately at puberty and lifted at age 18, after legal emancipation, or with a signed waiver of public assistance); or at the very least, an indelible glow-in-the-dark tattoo (on your location of choice) that says, "Any time you do sex -- even the first time -- could make a baby" (multilingual, of course, with little icons for the reading impaired).

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  • The argument against teen pregnancy is that it is the culprit and causes all kinds of problems.

    Quite the contrary. It is all the problems (poverty, lack of education, etc.) that cause teen pregnancy.

    Go ahead and solve those things, and this is a non-issue.

    Also, please keep in mind that we only care about this "crisis" for the group of unwed teen mothers. Married teen pregnancy is just fine.

    In the case you mentioned, she's probably wise not to marry since the father is not a source of financial (or emotional) support. In order to get gvmt benefits, she'll need to be a single mom! Not saying it's right, it just is.

    By Blogger Jamy, At 12/10/2007 5:16 PM  

  • While I agree that we need to address the root causes, we still do need to address the symptoms, because it's probably going to take a while (maybe even weeks) before we end the cycle of poverty, fix the DC school system, and give everyone a pony. Meanwhile, you have another generation of kids having kids...

    By Blogger Joelogon, At 12/10/2007 5:30 PM  

  • BUT...there is really no evidence that "kids having kids" is 1) very common or 2) terrible for the next generation. Really, all it does for most people is delay access to work and education. They do get there, it just takes longer.

    There is even some evidence (that I don't completely agree with) that these babies being born earlier in their mother's life is healthier.

    Sure, the kids are somewhat more at risk for some bad outcomes, but it's just not the nightmare the popular press makes it out to be.

    By Blogger Jamy, At 12/10/2007 5:52 PM  

  • I will have to defer to your judgment on this. I'd feel better about it if entry-level job wages had kept pace with inflation, or if there were still lots of good-paying manufacturing jobs for people without degrees, though.

    By Blogger Joelogon, At 12/10/2007 6:12 PM  

  • I can't argue with that! You are absolutely right that better-paid entry-level jobs would probably do more to stop teen pregnancy than all the sex-ed in the world! (Though better sex ed is definitely a good idea.)

    By Blogger Jamy, At 12/10/2007 10:18 PM  

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