For the second year in a row, after over a decade of decline, teen births are on the rise. There is no doubt that America has a troubling relationship with sex, especially teen sexuality in particular. Last year we were shocked to discover that teen births rose in 2006. However, after today's release of the 2007 data, it is clear that the 2006 statistics were not an aberration. Teen pregnancy (whether we choose to admit it or not) is still a major problem in this country.
As a teenager, the thought of my becoming pregnant was traumatizing. Today, as a woman who is thirty-six weeks pregnant with her second (planned) baby, the thought (and reality) of pregnancy is still very much anxiety-provoking. Parenthood is far from easy no matter what your age or relationship status. That being said, there is no way that I could have possibly experienced pregnancy as an adolescent. I have a hard enough time now, as an adult.
4.3 million new babies were born in 2007. This number is the largest in United States history. Babies are everywhere. And it seems more than ever that having them is trendy, easy, and chic. Look at Jamie-Lynn Spears, Juno, Bristol Palin, and the alleged "pact" of pregnant girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Whether we like it or not, pregnant teens are in the spotlight. They get notoriety, immediate tabloid attention, and money for selling their stories to the highest bidder. If we indeed live in a world consumed by narcissism and the desperate need for infamy, teen pregnancy has been a fairly quick way of achieving those frightful goals.
According to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics/Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, the birth rate for teenagers between the ages of 15-17 rose by 1% in 2007; 22.2 births per 1,000 girls. 40% of 2007 births were to unwed mothers, 25% of those women were younger than twenty years old.
When Bristol Palin announced her pregnancy and pending marriage to Levi Johnson, I appeared on a morning news show to discuss the challenges of teen marriage and early parenthood. My co-panelists were teen parents who were choosing to marry (even at the tender age of sixteen). Their idea of marriage was all fantasy -- cotton candy ideals of romance, financial assistance from parents, and monogamy. Sadly, this is rarely the case. And just look at Bristol, she and Levi didn't even make it to the wedding.
Needless to say, relationships are far from easy. And adolescence is a time of exploration -- not for making any type of impossible-to-keep commitment. Sure, babies can be a blessing. But a true blessing is in having the ability to make informed decisions, the freedom to speak up for your needs, having access to reproductive health services and information, and having accurate and effective sexuality education. Those are the kind of blessings I will instill in my children.
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