Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pregnant Teens

One of the interesting things in the past few weeks has been the media reaction to the announced pregnancy of 16 year old teen star Jamie Lyn Spears (sister of Britney). Major media outlets breathlessly reported the story and experts gave sombre advise about how to talk to your own teens about the news. First, its important to note that teen pregnancy, although rates have been decreasing for some time, is not a rare event. One stat that I found suggests that in the year 2002 more than 250,000 teens between 15 and 17 years of age became pregnant in the USA.

People drew all kinds of lessons from this news story. Some suggested that the poor girl somehow was the victim of a lack of access to birth control (not a likely possibility given the status of the family). Some stories suggested that the pregnant girl could also have been a victim of a mother who was exploiting the girl's earning potential without regard to the wishes of the girl in question. This is a plausible explanation. It seems that some child stars become the primary wage earners of their family with a parent earning money from the child by acting in the role of manager. This probably puts a lot of pressure on the child and could result in the situation where the child could seem to be exploited to maintain the economic status of the family. So, as with any particular case its impossible to know what lessons to draw from this story. I don't think that Jamie Lyn is some kind of a victim (of lack of access or of other circumstances). It seems possible that she could have chosen pregnancy as a way to deal with pressures inside of her family. Her mother deserves some of the responsibility although its obviously not possible for a parent to completely control the actions of a teen child. The father of the unborn child obviously deserves some of the responsibility as well.

I support the teaching of the Church that sex belongs in the context of a loving relationship normally found only in the context of marriage. This means that abstinence should be the main theme in classes taught to teenagers in Catholic schools. At the same time if there were teens in my own family I would also add a talk about the need to be responsible regarding choices about sexual activity. I know that this sounds like a contradiction of Catholic morality but it seems to me that considering the implications of unplanned pregnancy a more pragmatic approach would be appropriate.

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