Writer: Charlotte Marshall Templeman
Title: When Innocence is Lost
Across the United States there are thousands of teenage girls who are enjoying being a teenager. They gather for school events, summer parties, girls’ night out and the prom. Often times they may sit and talk about their boyfriend, who’s the cutest guy in school, which college they will attend and ‘am I too fat or skinny.’ For some girls, being a teenager is the life. It comes with limited worries of having to take care of themselves. It can be a carefree life and the best part of life for some. However, there are a number of teenage girls who have different concerns and conversations. Their concerns are, will I have to take care of this child alone, how will I take care of this child, does the baby father love me and most importantly will I still be able to fulfill my dream. There are millions of teenage parents across this country that have the dilemma of figuring out how they will take care of another life. In many situations they have no support from family and friends. It becomes a stressful time in their life and any ambitions they may have had usually take a back seat never to be fulfilled. Is this the case of all teen parents? Absolutely not, but it is the case for far too many.
For eleven years I worked with an organization who services teen parents. Our mission was to help the students graduate by offering academic and social services so that they could move on to either college or the workforce. While there were students who graduated and went on to college, quite a few did not. Their lives after high school became getting assistance from welfare, working mediocre jobs and accepting help from whoever they could. This life is a sad outcome to the counselor who wants the best for their student. However, we all know that a person has to want the best for themselves and work toward getting that. So what is the big deal with becoming a parent at 13, 14 or 15? Do young girls think it’s cute because they get to dress up their baby? Or do they get pregnant because most of their friends are pregnant and it looks fun? Or is getting pregnant a result of thinking they are in love and will be with their boyfriend forever and ever? If I had to answer those questions I would say most teenage girls get pregnant because of the fantasy. The fantasy being - it is not hard, I can do it myself and my boyfriend will always be around to help me. You have no idea how many times I heard these responses. So once again, what is the big deal with getting pregnant at an early age?
There are many factors that can play in to the high teen pregnancy rate in our country. We can blame shows like 16 and pregnant which follows the lives of several teen parents and their struggles. We can blame a too sexually charge environment where there are sexual undertones in everything from sitcoms, movies, magazines and music. We can blame it on peer pressure and lack of parental involvement. Although I believe all of those things can be a contributor to the teen parent rate, we have to look at how the young girl feels about herself. For as many teen parents we have in this country there are just as many who are not. What is that a result of?
While working with teen girls I found the biggest common denominator to their pregnancies was they were looking for love or they wanted to love something of their own. Working in an urban school setting you will find many obstacles children face daily. Some are abused, some live in horrific conditions, some have no idea how they will eat daily and some are faced with not having the basic needs they require to live. In most cases the teen girls live in single parent homes where they either have limited contact with their father or none at all. Often times, the mother of the teen parent, being young herself is “living her life.” That may entail not being home to raise her daughter and having numerous different live-in boyfriends. Often times the bond and support she should be receiving from her mother takes a backseat. She feels unwanted, not loved and useless. The teen girl self-esteem is shot and she begins thirst for love from anyone she can get it from. Sometimes that love comes in the form of a teen boy or older man who promises her the world. He will love her, take care of her and he will protect her. He will make her feel validated. Too often these are lies and false promises that she cannot see because of her needs. When it is all said and done she just wants to be loved.
In order to combat the high teen pregnancy amongst our girls we have to start building them up. That begins first and foremost at home. Parents have to parent and be there for their girls. Whether the mother and father are still together in a relationship, fathers have to understand the important role they play in the life of their daughter. It is the father who first teaches his daughter how she should be loved by any man. He is her first date. Father’s woo their daughters with positive affirmations so she will understand how she should be treated and how valuable she is. Mothers have to understand how they play a major role in the raising of their child. She has to lead by example and she has to always show her daughter how wanted and loved she is. As a society we have to embrace our girls and tell them how precious they are and how precious their bodies are. We have to instill in them the importance of self-worth, self-love and self-admiration. Our girls need to know that they are the most important being on this earth because of their ability to reproduce but they have to be taught when the time is right for such an act. We have to teach them that waiting for sex and motherhood at an early age is a smart thing because we have such high standards for them to meet because they are worthy of achieving every goal they set for themselves.
There are some teen parents who go on to achieve their goals. With dedication, support and hard work they accomplish what they set out to do. I applaud them and wish them well. However, in my fantasy world I would rather see young teen girls give themselves a chance at life before taking on such a huge responsibility. When they learn to wait on sex and motherhood they will see how life can be better because once innocence is lost, it can never be reclaimed.