My friend Toni over on A Daily Dose of Toni had a post today about MTV's 16 and Pregnant andTeen Mom. I have to say that her post was totally thought-provoking. You should really go read it before you see what I had to say about it.
Back? Okay. I think that one of the reasons this topic is so difficult in general is because it isn't black & white. We can all agree that teen pregnancy is not a "good thing," even those of us who were teen moms. On the other hand, let's face it; being a mom, if you're doing it right, is probably the most awesome thing ever. The reason shows like Teen Mom will probably never work at reducing teenage pregnancy is because babies are cool. They truly are. I know that when I talk about having my daughter at four days over nineteen, it's hard for me to make it sound like her birth was not one of the best things that ever happened to me. This is because it is one of the best things that ever happened to me. As a matter of fact, in 1999, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
I'm not alone in being guilty of this. Bristol Palin, who is trying to be the face of teen abstinence, has the same problem. She goes around telling people that being a single, teenage mom is hard. She's telling the truth. But whenever she's in a picture holding Tripp, she has the look of pure joy that any good mother has when they are holding their precious baby. We end up looking like hypocrites when we tell people not to do what we did, because we kind of are. For many teen moms, having a baby is difficult, and expensive, and inconvenient, and risky, and worth it.
Now, let me give my caveats. I, like Bristol and every other successful teen mom I've ever known (including my cousin who is doing a fabulous job raising a beautiful baby girl), had the support of a large and loving family. I was an older teen, since I got pregnant in college, not high school. I worked two jobs to support my baby as well as I could, and I did not accept welfare (other than CHIP insurance) or child support. I finished my college education, although it took me 5 years to finish a 4 year degree. My story is not typical of the young, uneducated teenage "welfare mom." The problem with stories like mine is that many lonely, immature fifteen year old girls will not realize that my story is not typical. They will see people like me, happy with the life I have chosen, and think the same fate awaits them if they get pregnant.
So, if we want to reduce teenage pregnancy, what kind of message do we need? "Having a baby isn't cool" just isn't entirely true. Sometimes, having a baby is very cool. "Having a baby is only cool when you're physically, financially, and emotionally ready" is more accurate, but doesn't really make a catchy slogan. If a teenager is not mature enough to have a baby, they certainly won't be mature enough to realize they aren't mature enough. In the end, I don't have any answers to the questions raised by Toni's blog, just more questions. But I think these are good questions that we should all be discussing in our society. Comments? Blog posts of your own, lol?