I was inspired to write this post by this cake over at one of my favorite blogs, Cake Wrecks. They essentially show pictures of cakes "gone horribly, hilariously wrong." The "Congrats on your Teen Pregnancy" cake is certainly something gone wrong, but unfortunately not all that hilarious.
I have often been puzzled by the pregnancy rates among my students. I teach 9th graders -- so students between the ages of 13 and 15 -- and this year alone I have seven female students who either are pregnant or already have children. Out of my 60 9th graders, seven are pregnant or have a child. Seven. I'm no mathematician (wait, yes I am) but that's like 12% of my 14 year-olds. Yikes, right? The high school I went to -- a public school in a relatively wealthy suburban area -- had a pregnancy rate nowhere near this high. I can only remember two or three members of my graduating class (about 550 people) having kids.
I've tried to come up with reasons for this, but nothing I can think of completely explains it. Part of the problem, I think, is that many women (and, therefore, girls) in low-income communities do not have as much reproductive autonomy (in terms of using contraception) as their more affluent peers. Part of it seems to be that abortion is less common among my students, which means that more babies are carried to term. Good or bad (and that's one issue I don't even want to come close to discussing on this blog), it means more babies. These issues explain some of the discrepancy in pregnancy rates between affluent and low-income high schools, but I don't think it comes anywhere near explaining the entirety of it.
The biggest issue that I see is that teen pregnancy at my school -- and likely at schools across DC -- has simply become normalized. There is no stigma, there is no "shame," and so there is no problem. Of course, I don't think shaming people is a good thing to do, but it is definitely an effective deterrent. When you are concerned about what people might think, you're more likely to spend more time thinking about your decision. On the other hand, when you see dozens of other pregnant students and/or students with children around you, it seems like having a baby in high school (or, heaven forbid, middle school) isn't all that big of a deal. Well, I think that's wrong. I'm a grown up and having a baby scares the behoozits out of me.
Obviously, having babies all comes down to sex (sorry if anyone out there wasn't aware of that yet -- ask your parents). Although I certainly don't seek out conversations about sex with my students (ew), I do from time to time overhear things. It seems like sexual activity is way more common among my students than it was when I was in 9th grade. Whenever I make comments indicating to my students that maybe they're not mature enough for such discussions (or such actions), they act like I'm some old fuddy-duddy. I'm sorry, but when you freak out about getting a sticker on your quiz, it probably means you're not ready to be a parent. Maybe that's just me? Probably not, though.
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