Alarms went off as I read last Friday's AP report: The principal of the Gloucester (Massachusetts) High School had announced the results of an investigation into the spike in teen pregnancy, seventeen this year as compared to an average of four in other years. It seems that a group of girls made a pact to get pregnant. None of the girls were over sixteen, and in visits to the clinic, they seemed more upset to find that they weren't pregnant than to find that they were. One teen listed the father of her unborn child as a homeless man. The administrators described them as "girls who lack self-esteem and have a lack of love in their life."
Meanwhile, we're worried sick about the child brides and teen mothers on the YFZ Ranch—as well we should be. Some of these FLDS girls are forced to marry and procreate long before they are ready (as clearly established in Elissa Wall's recent book, Stolen Innocence). But some defiantly embrace the practice of young marriage and youthful pregnancy—in Massachusetts suburbs and throughout the state of Texas, in cities and towns, as well as in isolated fundamentalist communities in Arizona and Utah. What gives with our girls in America?
It's too trite to say that all teens who want to get pregnant lack self-esteem, FLDS or not. It might be more true to say that teen girls will use their best resources to make themselves feel loved, desired and protected. For some this well-being may involve honing their minds to excel on the SAT and ACT exams. For others it may mean lettering in track or volleyball. Still others may make themselves fashion plates, learning makeup and hairstyling. Still others may become social butterflies or best friends. And some may decide that the most surefire way to prove their worth and make a contribution will be to replicate themselves—to give a child a better chance at life than they perceive they got. It's not rational, to be sure. But it is typical of teenage idealism.
So what can we do about it? The more we emphasize the contributions of girls and women beyond their gender roles, the more valid they are likely to feel as human beings who have something of significance to add to the human race. At least, that's what I think. What do you think we need to do about the rash of teen pregnancies sweeping our country?