My daughter came home yesterday with the news that one of her classmates is pregnant. My daughter is in the eighth grade. I suppose I was expecting this news at some point in her schooling, but I must confess I didn’t expect to hear it this soon. I am stunned and speechless — almost.
I cannot guess what is going through this child’s mind, but she made the announcement publicly and apparently with little concern. The world has changed in many ways for the better but in many ways not so much.
I know boys and girls have been getting pregnant, well, forever. But there is something about young people getting pregnant that has a very different feel to it in today’s world. I can’t help but put such pregnancies in the context of MTV’s reality show 16 and Pregnant; cameras roll, drama ensues, production wraps, lives unravel.
We are attracted to these shows because we are horrified. Unfortunately, our horror and subsequent attraction give tacit approval to teen parenthood — very young teen parenthood. It even offers the possibility of fame.
I am not one who believes teen parenthood condemns a child to a life of destitution. Nor is it a commentary on the character of the children involved. I have had far too many students face the prospect of teen pregnancy and come out the other side exceptionally responsible and successful.
But it occurs to me that teen pregnancy has become much more complex. Thankfully, it is not the shame filled, “send the girl away” event it once was. But it is also not the “welcome to the world where anything is possible” scenario, a scenario where even a single mother had a chance of raising a family, owning a modest home and living on a small quilt patch of the American Dream.
The prospects for teen parents have become significantly more limited. This is particularly true of children whose parents cannot or refuse to support them. What has historically been a fairly easy step up into the middle class has become a treacherous cliff and difficult climb.
I would like to say there is some hope to offer, but given our current political climate, even the left has engaged in vilifying those most vulnerable in our culture.
When was the last time we had a significant and valuable national discussion of a living wage? It is certainly not $8 or $9 an hour. Sadly, that is where most young people will start and where many uneducated people will remain.
It is a strange world. On one hand we have come to embrace the choices/mistakes of young people without ostracizing them. On the other we have created a world where their options have become so limited that many are ostracized by the sheer economic reality that is their inheritance.
I know we can do better. I know we will do better. Until then, I hope we can be more successful in guiding the choices of our young people, opening doors of possibility for them and that we begin to forge a future for them worthy of the generations that came before us.