Dr. Michelle Golland: The MTV shows "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" don't glamorize teen pregnancy. Giving these young mothers covers on magazines with a quote like, "I'm Broke" certainly isn't glamorous, either.
OK, I get the argument that the teen moms are held out on the cover and given a pretty makeover, and that that might somehow make young girls think it is cool to get pregnant at 16, struggle to receive a GED, never go to college and fight with a "loser" babydaddy about going out drinking with his other hoodlum friends ...!
What I really think is that these shows should be shown to every eighth-grade boy and girl in the United States. If they were, then maybe, just maybe, we could bring our teen-pregnancy rate down. These reality shows give Generation Y a sad glimpse into the real truth about being a teen mother: It is a stressful, difficult and life-changing experience that can 100 percent be avoided with proper sex education.
When it comes to teen pregnancy, we are constantly in a blame-game scenario -- but we never actually deal with the problem effectively. Teen pregnancy is a public-health issue and must be dealt with as such. Once we as a country accept that fact and stop looking at teen sexuality through a lens distorted by politics and religion, we just might stem the tide of this epidemic. Teenagers are going to be curious about sex, and many of them are sexually active. We must prepare them sufficiently to deal with their hormones and sexual feelings in a healthy and safe manner.
As a country and as parents, we are failing our children. We are failing to adequately protect them from themselves. Why are we not questioning the reason why the United States has the highest teen-pregnancy rate in the industrialized world? We live in a country where a third of girls get pregnant before the age of 20!
The shows on MTV are only viable because pregnancy has already become a disastrous mainstream experience for many teenagers. We adults have failed our teens because we can't agree on how to deal with this issue without religious or political points of view. The people who are being hurt by our lack of an educated, reasonable and measured response are our children.
France, Germany, Sweden and Canada do a far better job preventing teen pregnancy. Per every 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, teen pregnancy rates are as follows:
United States: 72.2
The estimated public cost for teen pregnancy in the United States is between $6 and $9.1 billion a year! Eighty percent of teen moms are on some form of public assistance. Seven out of ten teen mothers are unlikely to receive prenatal care, which of course has huge negative health impacts on the children.
Besides those health risks, kids born to teen mothers are also at greater risk for emotional and physical abuse, especially if there is no family support. These kids are at higher risk of emotional and academic problems later in life as well. Another startling statistic: Baby boys of teen mothers are at an increased risk for incarceration later in their lives, while girls born to teens are more likely to become teen moms themselves.
Here are some ways to improve adolescent sexual health:
- Use sound research as the basis for public-health policies about reproduction and teen pregnancy. Political and religious groups should have LITTLE influence on this.
- Express a national desire to reduce the number of abortions and prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Ensure consistent sex education and easy access to contraception and condoms.
- Have the government support massive, consistent, long-term public-education campaigns via the Internet, television, films, radio, billboards, pharmacies and health-care providers. The media should be a respected partner in these campaigns.
- Start sex education in public schools in late elementary education, and have it be comprehensive and consistent over the course of children's schooling all the way through twelfth grade. Educators should provide accurate and complete information on contraception options, as well as on abstinence and all health-related issues. Emotional issues and relational issues should be discussed as well.
We must stop with the hysterical responses in the media and address the real issues about teen pregnancy in our country. The ramifications are far greater than the simple argument that some parents don't want their kids taught about sex at school. It shouldn't be about blaming MTV or the movie "Juno." Teen pregnancy is a public-health concern and must be addressed by governmental agencies and public schools.
While we in the United States have spent years playing the blame game, our neighbors in Canada have been decreasing their teen pregnancy rate, keeping thousands upon thousands of unwanted and neglected children from being brought into this world with one strike against them already. Can't we do the same?