Read part 1.
Teen pregnancy rates are actually at a forty year low right now. We’ve been shaming and punishing teens for generations but pregnancy rates didn’t fall until we started educating teens and giving them birth control options. Today’s teens use more forms of birth control more faithfully than my generation did, and we used far more than our parents. Teens with access to family planning tools use them.
Shaming and punishing teen mothers didn’t actually keep the “good girls” safe. Sending them away to give birth in secret and have the baby adopted out damaged a generation of young women and their estranged children, but it didn’t prevent other pregnancies. Hideous, racially charged political rhetoric demonizing teen and single mothers hasn’t worked.
Sex in teenagers will never be completely eliminated, but effective birth control used correctly has worked to more than half the teen pregnancy rate of my grandmother’s day. Some teens will choose to become pregnant and a greater number will choose (or be forced) to continue an unplanned pregnancy. None of them should be punished. Making their lives so bad no girl would want it has never stopped teen pregnancy, but it has caused needles suffering for generations of women and their children.
As a young woman, I was self destructive and lost. I made a lot of reckless choices and abused party drugs. I was in college but failing most of my classes. When I contemplate what my life would be like if I hadn’t had a baby at 22, I have to include the possibility I might not be alive. My son gives me a purpose and an obligation to life my intelligence and achievement never have. When I returned to university two years later, I had the maturity and organization to do it well, and earned straight A’s.
I had to drop out though, because the time and money constraints of working, going to school, and being a single mom were too much to juggle. I wasn’t a teen mom, just close enough to feel some blowback from the hatred aimed at them. And even though I was older and already had my GED, I experienced a lot of the same socially imposed consequences.
If I’d had the means to focus on parenting and school, without having to work three part time jobs and take out student loans to afford it, I would have finished college. I wouldn’t have moved in with two abusers we lived with for capitalist survival. My son would have greater educational stability. The things teen mothers need are things most of us need, respite care and enough money to breathe. If we lift them up, their children and all children will rise with them.
It’s time to treat teen parents with the respect they deserve.