Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Washington Post Article Examines Teen Pregnancy in Alexandria

In the Washington Post Sunday paper, English teacher Patrick Welsh wrote an insightfularticle on the growing number of teen pregnancies at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. Of the 2,211 students at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School, at least 70 girls are soon-to-be or already mothers. Welsh discusses his concern that a growing ambivalence toward teen pregnancy throughout the country has greatly affected how the girls feel about becoming pregnant.

Welsh argues the efforts to decrease teen pregnancy do not include adequate information about the hardships associated with early motherhood. The problem, Welsh claims, is that teen mothers do not have realistic expectations of parenting because of the many social services offered by both the state and the school. The high school even has a brand new day-care center called Tiny Titans, which provides free child-care to assist teen mothers complete their high school education. With the growing numbers of teen parents at T.C, Williams, child-care is greatly in demand and Tiny Titans has a long waiting list.

While Welsh is in no way advocating for the end of these programs, he admits that he is an old-fashioned guy who can’t shake the feeling that the support may actually be enabling young women. It cannot be denied that the shame and secrecy that once surrounded teen pregnancy has been replaced with in part with celebrity glamour and reluctant acceptance. Welsh believes that in addition to comprehensive sex education, access to birth control, and support programs to teen parents, teens need to be given a clear message that teen pregnancy is harmful. The stats on teen pregnancy certainly back Welsh’s claim.

While Welsh’s article provides interesting food for thought, there appears to be two important factors missing. First, while Welsh briefly discusses the role young men play after a child is born, boys aren’t mentioned as a necessary part for the prevention equation. Its true- young women are disproportionately affected by pregnancy, but the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality has gone on for far too long. How can we expect men to be equally responsible for their children if we do not require them to be equally responsible for themselves?

The second issue is that Welsh may be underestimating the enormous pressure that is put on women, especially young women, to be ‘good’ mothers. This pressure can prevent many women from sharing their difficult experiences with motherhood for fear of being labeled as a bad mother. The truth of the matter is that parenting is a challenge regardless of your age, but as women have historically been the primary caregivers, the seriousness and complexities of child rearing have often been undermined. If we start honestly acknowledging the holistic experience of parenting, perhaps teens would gain a better understanding the physical, emotional, and financial responsibilities that come with having a child, and what their future after childbirth might hold.

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