Is This Thing On?

The auditorium is completely dark.
The audience sits in anticipation.
There is shuffling of feet.  A cough.  A few sniffles.
Everyone waits, unsure as to why they are even here in the first place.
And then?  A single spotlight shines on the stage illuminating what appears to be a soapbox.
From off stage, I walk slowly and climb up carefully onto the soapbox.
I tape the microphone that is set up for me…
Um.  Hi.  Is this thing on?
Um, like I said.  Hi.
I don’t usually use this platform for soapbox speeches, but I feel compelled today, so I thank you all for being here.
I need to talk about teen pregnancy today.
There is a lot of the pregnant going on in the teen world.  And I am not Ok with it.
In fact, I am all kinds of upset about it.  Remember, I am a teacher.  I am witnessing 14 year olds becoming parents.
FOURTEEN YEAR OLD CHILDREN HAVING CHILDREN.
Sorry, I had to yell that because that is what I am dealing with.  How do I respond to these students?  Huh? What do i say?
I’m sorry?
Bummer, dude?
Congratulations?
Holy ham sandwiches?
So I just give them a shocked look.  Although I don’t think that helps anyone.
And then of course they ask me tons of questions because they know I have a toddler.  I don’t mind sharing (you all know that), but really?  Why are they not asking their MOMS?
I try to let these girls know how sad it is to have to give up your childhood at 14.  I didn’t give mine up until 31 (some would say I am still holding it close).  My most crazy and fun time was my 20’s!  they won’t have that!  they will have have high schooler before they are thirty.
How did this happen?  I thought I had it figured out.  I thought it was just the girls who came from homes where no one was educating them or talking to them or monitoring what they were doing.
But then I heard of other pregnancies.  Of ones from kids whose parents I KNOW talk to them and expect college and academic success from.  Who have high standards, but not impossibly high standards.
So what is it?  Why did I not end up a teen mom, but these girls are?
I tried to think about how my parents talked to me…um, they didn’t.  I don’t remember one solitary conversation about respecting my body or to not do anything that could get me pregnant.
I vaguely remember a trip to the library when my youngest brother was “in the oven” about how babies get in and out of mommies’ tummies.
I remember my parents being skeptical of boys.
I remember purity crap they tried to feed us in school and church because they weren’t allowed to talk about any other prevention.  I also remember girls getting pregnant with that purity promise on their finger.
Why? What is the difference between the success stories and the teen moms?
Luck?
I can tell you my not getting pregnant was not luck.  I somehow had it ingrained in me that I was better than that.  That I was worth more than that.  I didn’t have a ton of self-confidence or self-esteem.  I was mocked relentlessly in middle school for acne problems, but even when the boys started noticing me in high school?  I never gave in.  I dated, but I didn’t make babies.
Why?
I don’t have an answer to that.
But I wish I did. I wish I knew what to say to those girls I teach to make them know they have so many options other than that guy.
I want to be able to teach Eddie NOT to pressure girls or to BE pressured by girls (let’s face it, they are as much to blame as the dudes.  Girls are not just innocent victims here).
I want him to respect all people’s bodies including his own.  Look but don’t touch.
How do I do this?
And then back to my current problem…how do I show these girls support without condoning what has been done?
If I help them out and get all their work together and ask them how they are feeling, I get accused of supporting what has happened to them.
If I show any sort of hint of disapproval, I am accused of being all judgey and cold.
I feel sorry for these girls.  I want better for them.  But I feel sorry for those babies too.  Is this going to be a cycle?  Are they going to grow up lacking some sort of self-awareness or self-esteem too?
Or maybe that is not even it.  I know girls who got pregnant in high school and they love their life and everything is great.  And they wouldn’t change it.
But…
I still see teen pregnancy as a problem. I do.
Does this make me bad and judgey?
But I want to help those who get pregnant succeed.
Does this make me condone teen shenanigans?
Help!
I want to fix this problem.
Because, yes.  it is a problem.  Teen pregnancy is a HUGE FLIPPING PROBLEM! And so is not knowing how to handle it!
And you know what?  I am going to flip it off for my Friday Flip-offs.
Whew.  There.
Thank you for listening to this rant.  I needed to get that out.
I nod one last time at the audience and then cautiously climb off the soapbox.
I turn one final time unsure of which way to exit.
I smile sheepishly and trot quickly off stage.
The spotlight is cut.
There is a pause.  And then?
Applause.

Kludgy Mom is the brainchild behind the flip-offs and Momma Kiss has been hosting the link up.  Go forth and read the vents.
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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. Well you’re not losing me as a follower. I am 100% with you! I find it disturbing that our society seems to have become complacent on this issue. Even worse, teen pregnancy is seen as OK, even cool by some. IT IS NOT FREAKING COOL! I think it is a tragedy.

    I was also a teacher, years ago (remember, I told you I’m old). When I took my Adolescent Psychology class I did my report on teenage sexuality. And you know what I found in my research? The more parents talked to their kids about sex, the less likely they were to have it. The opposite of what most parents believe. It all starts in the home. The right messages there can undo the outside influences. Teenagers want honest, open, no BS information from their parents about sex. They don’t want to be talked down to. They don’t want parents reading from a script. They want to ask blunt questions and get blunt answers.

    Parents have to gut up and do this! Sure, it’s uncomfortable. I know I am not looking forward to it. But it has to be done. And earlier than you think. ‘Cause those outside influences grab ahold of our kids at a very young age.

    Talking to our kids about sex strengthens the relationship we have with them. And THAT is what keeps them from getting pregnant!

    • I TOTALLY agree with you…I wish my students got taught more about love. I wish they didn’t try to be their kids’ friends. I wish they did more parenting. sigh.

  2. Man, what a hard place to be in, seeing these girls around you and not really knowing the best way to respond. Do you get the feeling that it’s more commonplace than it would have been back in the 80’s, when I was in high school? I only remember one girl who had a baby, but how many were pregnant and we never knew? Luck was a big factor, I’m sure. But I know there is a show about teen moms (MTV?) and some high profile teen pregnancies lately (the younger Spears sister, Bristol Palin).

    Wow, I just don’t know what you CAN do. Maybe some of the conversations these girls needed to have didn’t happen when they should have? My daughter is 12, and it scares me to death.

    • I think it is more socially acceptable to be in society as a pregnant teen these days. When I graduated (from a pretty affluent school), there were at least a half dozen pregnancies my senior year. It was the joke in neighboring schools that there was something in the water or that our town was so boring it was the only thing to do on a Saturday night. YIKES!

      But back then? There weren’t celebrities out there being proud of their 16-year old baby bump, either. It was kept a secret for as long as possible. And even when it was clear certain girls were expecting? No body talked about it.

      I don’t know if this is better or worse.

      They didn’t get the support they needed, but they also weren’t glamorized either.

      I really don’t know.

  3. As someone who was miraculously lucky (thus far) after starting FAR too early and putting my poor parents through all that hell, I think the best thing you can do from the girls is to be honest.

    They need to know, from someone who isn’t their own mother, that babies are cute, but a ton of work, responsibility, and very expensive. They need to have someone who they can be honest with about discussing their options, both for the next 9 months and long term. Especially the ones who want to go to college- do they want to put that off to raise a child and not necessarily even get their GED? They need to hear that it’s ultimately their decision– regardless of your personal beliefs– do they want to have the baby, give it up for adoption, or end the pregnancy? These are their options, and they deserve to be educated as honestly as possible.

    To be honest, they probably also need to meet with a school counselor to figure out why they’re having sex to begin with. I’d bet money that, as was my issue, it’s a matter of low, if not nonexistent, self esteem. They need to know that they’re not sluts, that they’re worthwhile people, and that their life isn’t over, it’s just changing and that they CAN make the best out of whatever path they choose.

    By helping them to figure out their situation and make the most of where they’re at NOW, you’re not condoning what they did to get there. You’re helping them move forward past the idiotic decisions (and I’m allowed to say that, because I did it, quite literally) that got them preggo at such a young age, and giving them resources to be successful in their lives, instead of spiraling downward/slippery slope, whatever.

    • This is all so true! I wish we had better support in our schools for these girls. With all the budget cuts we have one counselor and no counseling secretary. So our sole counselor does all the transcripting and scheduling. There is little time for actual counseling that doesn’t have to do with what classes to take or how many credits are needed for graduation.

      And our social worker is maxed out by her own caseload.

      I try to live by example. To show these young ladies that now that this is in their lives? They need to grow up and be role models themselves.

      And for the ones who are not pregnant? I just hope they know that they can still be kids. Still be silly.

  4. Wow.
    I don’t know how you do it. Any of it. How you strike that balance between supportive and judgmental. How you teach your son to respect girls and to respect himself.

    But I will definitely be coming back here to see if you find answers. It’s so infuriating to feel like pop culture is glamorizing teen pregnancy. When it first started happening, I thought that the baby as accessory would be a flash in the pan. And now we have MTV with that stupid show….what is it, 16 and Pregnant? I’ve never watched it, but the idea seems awful. Get pregnant and we’ll put you on MTV!

    Kudos to you for calling out a HUGE problem.

    • Thanks Angie!
      It is a post that has been in my head since school started and in waddled a VERY pregnant 14 year old. It always shocks me. Every. single. time.

      The best I have been able to do is to just love them. Other than that? I don’t know what else to do.

  5. You need to love them. You need to love them because they’ve been trying to find love in all the wrong places, and it’s gotten them in a big mess. What’s done is done, and now they need the love and support of sane adults. This does not mean that you have to glamorize it or condone it by any means, but they need to be shown love and support by people they trust.

    I would try to be a light and show them the love that Jesus would show them. Not trying to get preachy on ya, but that’s just what I would do.

    ~emily

    • I do love them. You are so right with that. I try every day to remember that Jesus didn’t judge or ridicule those who were sinners, he just loved them. He took in the least of these. And many days I feel like I am surrounded with the “least”. Not because they are worthless, but because they HAVE the least. I 100% agree with you. With your heart. it is a beautiful heart.

  6. I’ve wondered about this myself. MTV’s glamorization is appalling. It makes teen pregnancy seem cool, when it’s just sad. So does ABC Family’s show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I agree with DesignHER Momma. They need love. And support. Not to condone what they did, but to know that they are not the only soon to be parent with fears and options. No matter the age that we became a parent, we all had fears. The longer we waited for children, the easier we were able to handle the fears. For those that didn’t, it’s a sea of scary.

    Good luck.

    • Oh Erin, I can’t even bring myself to watch those shows! I totally feel the same way as you! These kids don’t need to see that having babies can get you on TV–although I admit I am glad they are choosing to try to love these children, but it’s hard. it’s scary. Becoming a parent is ALWAYS those things. They need love. plain and simple. I try to do that, but it’s so hard for it to come across the way I want it to.

  7. What a tough situation. They need love first off, because in my opinion, that is what they are seeking by having sex. They want someone to love them. And maybe for some, the baby is that someone that they think will love them unconditionally. What they don’t realize when they are all caught up in sex is that babies are a TON of work. And they cost a TON of money. And you are a changed person after that experience. Being a parent, especially a mother, you give up everything for that little life you bring into this world. Everything. Graduation, parties, Prom, college, the chance to be a kid and live out those teen years. Most kids, if you asked them, wouldn’t want to give up all of those things “on purpose”, so then why on earth are they having sex?

    It is all a huge mystery to me. And with you being in the forefront as an educator in their world, you have a fine line to walk. How do you teach respect to those who have no concept?

    I believe it starts in the home. My parents talked to me about the consequences of sex, and I had a greater goal for myself. I didn’t want to have children until I was done with college, had a husband, a home, a steady income, and was able to provide fully for that baby. But parents of teenagers want to be their “friends”, not their parents. I think that if they really stopped to see what was truly going on, they wouldn’t care if their child temporarily thought they were uncool or the worst parents ever. It’s all about sacrifice in the end.

    • Julie, I think you hit the nail on the head here. Too many parents try SOOO hard to be a friend to their child when what the child needs is a PARENT. There is not a healthy authority figure in the home…it’s all about equality.

      And yes, it’s a fine line. I want to show students I love them. I want them to know that when someone loves you, they don’t make you do things like sex. I want them to love themselves enough to be confident in their choices.

      It just feels like I’m not doing that each time I find out another student is making poor choices.

      Sigh…

  8. I can relate so well to your uncomfortable situation when dealing with pregnant teenagers. I taught high school health for 12 years and found that what teens REALLY want is someone to be HONEST with them. I don’t want to say that I talked ‘down’ to them or came ‘down to their level’..I was simply HONEST. I didn’t stand at my podium with overheads of the reproductive system shining on the wall and throw a bunch of anatomy at them..tell them to ‘just say no’ and move on to the next subject. I chose (and was fortunate to have permission to do so) to go deeper. We talked about WHY teens choose to have sex and consequences that INCLUDED pregnancy but was not limited to only that. We talked about a lot of things and I had many teens over the years thank me for it. I unfortunately, also had teens who came to me when they were pregnant. Some embarrassed, some almost seemingly proud but all who were scared. I remember one young lady telling me she wanted to show me a picture and then she whipped out her first sonogram. I too, struggled with the appropriate response. What I chose to do is to tell them that they have chosen a difficult road, but wished them the very best. I also tried to tell them that no matter how difficult it became they NEEDED to finish school…they NEEDED to have a plan. Obviously, these girls didn’t just take what I said as gospel. If they had, they wouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place. I just hoped that they walked away knowing that although it would not be the road I had hoped for them… I cared about them and supported them.

    I once had a pretty heated conversation with a colleague who I felt overstepped her boundaries. After finding out one of her students (who came from a less than stellar family) was pregnant she threw her a “baby shower” IN CLASS!!! She couldn’t understand why I was so upset about this, as she was ‘only trying to help’. I understood her desire to help a struggling student but tried to make her understand the conflicted message she sent her students. ‘Get pregnant and I’ll throw you a party’ is not exactly the message I want impressionable teens to receive.

    Nevertheless, I think the best thing we can do for our teens is to be honest and real with them. Anything short of that , I feel, is a disservice to our youth.

    • Tonya…I am SO with you! I too probably talk to the kids more than I should. I told them all about my Csection and the pain. I would share with them what I learned in birthing class while I was pregnant. I honestly think I scared a few girls into not even wanting to SIT by boys! I even throw statistics out there now and then about how 3/4 sexually active high schoolers have an STD and may not even know it. And then I tell them what those STDs could be. It freaks them out. But that is GOOD! I plan to talk that way to my son too. I want him to know that whatever happens, we will love him, but we will be disappointed with a bad choice.

      Oh and? throwing a baby shower for a student? Is ridiculous. We had a teacher do that once too. I read her the riot act. She still thought she was being supportive. I said if she wanted to help provide, to just buy diapers for the girl. Or give her things on the side and not make a show of how great it can be. UGG!

      honesty and love. that is what I strive for.

  9. my sister got pregnant at 16 years old. She is now 33 and has a 16 year old daughter, my precious niece. i have seen the pain teen pregnancy caused her. i have seen it turn her life, and my family’s life, upside down. but i have also seen the joy of a new life. of love unconditional. i cannot imagine this world without my niece. so i don’t really know what to say.
    i agree it’s a problem. it’s SAD. it’s HARD.
    that’s all, i guess.

    love you!

    • both of my aunts were pregnant at 16 and married by 17. They are still married (40 years later) and I can’t imagine our family being any other way. I have friends from HS who were pregnant when we graduated and they have gorgeous families and wonderful lives. So I don’t think that it’s not possible to be a success if you become a pregnant teen, I just think it’s such a hard road to walk. Everything becomes more difficult. And without the right support system? It becomes the government’s problem (as is the case of my students–most of them).

      Thank you for weighing in, Grace. This is why I agonized over this topic. I KNOW some teen pregnancies turn out wonderful and as adults we “wouldn’t have it any other way”. But I wondered…really?

      love you back momma. LOTS.

  10. I think these girls already feel horrible for what has happened.I think they are scared for their future. I think they are just scared period. They need support. They need love. They need guidance.

    My friend got pregnant at 17. She was an honour roll student. She made a mistake. When her parents turned their backs on her, we all rallied around her, not knowing what to do ourselves. In a year, I saw her grow as a responsible individual who loved and cared for her daughter.

    What I find very admirable is that these teenage mom’s who are pregnant are choosing life. They are choosing to give that baby life instead of ridding it as a mistake. They are sacrificing their future to give life.
    They are a mother regardless of age. They need support just like any other mother if not more.

    • Oh Kim, how I love you. You are right, these girls need the support of becoming a mother. I strive to be as honest as possible with them, and show them that no matter what? I love them and I am there for them.

      But the truth is…with some of my students? They don’t feel horrible. They are not embarrassed. They aren’t even scared for their future. They never thought they would become anything anyway. That is what breaks my heart. By 14, nobody even let them know there was another way. They just went the way the rest of the women in their family did. I actually had a girl tell me that when she turned 16, she was going to drop out and get pregnant so she could live on government support–just like her mom and sister. She honestly didn’t realize there was another way.

      I cried myself to sleep that night.

      These girls? That I see? Don’t realize they have a future to sacrifice. And that is what breaks my heart the most.

      • PSssst…love you too. I see this far too often at the inner city hospital I work at…a…LOT. I totally get what you’re saying. I’ve felt that way towards those teens too and wanted to shake the shit out of them…

  11. I saw your tweet about this last night and read it last night, but waited to comment.

    I don’t think there’s anything in this post that would turn people away from you. You are speaking your opinion, and what I think most people agree with.

    I remember being in 7th grade at Jackson Park, and a young girl in my class was pregnant. She left halfway through the year, presumably to have the baby, and never came back. At 13, I could hardly wrap my mind around that. I didn’t even like boys then…at least not in that way.

    My niece, 17, just had a baby a few months ago. I was sooo disappointed in her, and further more in her decision to not give it up for adoption. Not because I didn’t think she could be a good mom, but because I knew it meant she was giving up her childhood, and that made me so sad.

    Great post.

    • I think I agonized about this post because I do know that some girls go on to work hard and be extremely successful after having a slip-up and getting pregnant. I know this.

      But the girls I see? Mostly do not. They don’t even realize that they have a future to sacrifice. They see this as their lot in life because no one in the family has made it clear that it doesn’t have to be this way.

      I wonder sometimes…

      When did these students go from thinking they could be anything in the world (like kids do in elementary school), to thinking they were stuck? I look at my toddler and think…at what age do you lose this? This innocence and joy? When do you give up hope? And how does the universe pick who is going to give up? Who is going to give in?

      My plan is to be incredibly honest and love my son as hard as I can.

      I think…that is all I can do, yes?

      Thank you for commenting, my dear. i appreciate it!

  12. Oh my goodness, 14 years old. Just breaks my heart to hear that teen pregnancy is just rising again and again. At first it drops then it rises higher on the next jump.

    Homeschooling is sounding better and better these days, but I fear will this make them want to rebel? I have three daughters 7, 4, and 1 so I am just so nervous. The times we are in are so much harder I think then when we were kids, but then it it? My mind is just spinning.,…..

    • They will meet boys regardless of being homeschooled or not. Last year we had a homeschooled girl enroll halfway through the year. She was already 6 months pregnant. I don’t think there are any guarantees. I think we need to be honest with our kids and love them the best we can and really hope that they take what we teach them about making good choices to heart. It’s just such a hard spot to be in. I am terrified of having daughters…but then I think about myself and know that I made good choices, so will I be equipped to pass that along?

  13. I am sorry if I might be repeating comments-I read through your post but have not read all the comments.

    The first thing I need to say to you-is go with your heart. I think part of your battle on how to deal with these kids is what others are going to say to you. “If I help them out and get all their work together and ask them how they are feeling, I get accused of supporting what has happened to them.
    If I show any sort of hint of disapproval, I am accused of being all judgey and cold.”

    To heck with what others think, do what feels right to you.

    Kids that get pregnant at those ages definitely have self esteem issues. They probably also don’t feel loved. (Btw-if you want to read a great book and get some insights into what makes people feel loved check out Gary Chapman’s book The five love languages. He also has one for kids and for teens. Theya re really good reads and shed a lot of light on what people feel.

    Good luck and good for you for caring.

    • You are completely right. To heck with what others think! I really just need to love these kids. That is what they need. I mean, I was 31 when I had Eddie and *I* was scared! I can’t imagine being 14! They need support and love. what is done is done.

  14. Wow, Katie. I always wanted to be a teacher, but never even thought about how difficult it would be to deal with things like this. Trying to be supportive and non-judgmental would be so frustratingly hard.

    I don’t think this will turn anybody at all away from you. And if it does? I wouldn’t worry about it 😉

    • it is amazing how much of my job entails NOT TEACHING. I spend more time mothering these kids than anything else. It is draining.

      And thank you. I haven’t lost any followers or gotten any hate mail yet!

  15. I was a teen mom. Granted, I was 18 when my son was born and already out of High school. But it was still hard. I was still ashamed. And “the love of my life” turned out to be a cheating asshole who is now referred to as “the donor” because for the past 14 years he has been nothing more than that.
    You don’t expect that when you’re a teen parent, you expect it all to be the perfect fairy tale, that you’re going to get married and everything will be great. my biggest mistake is giving my kid that asshole’s last name.

    I don’t know why these “little kids” are getting sexually active, when I was that age I couldn’t even fathom.. but then again I spent most of my time with my very Italian, very Catholic family. My kid is 14, I can’t imagine if one of his friends was pregnant. I know shit happens, but 14 is just too young. I didn’t even start until I was 17 and I wish I had waited just a little longer.

    I tell my son don’t have kids until you’re married. He just says “Ok mom” he sees how I struggle and I don’t think he would want that for anyone else. I would love to have another baby, but not till I’m married (and I’m 33).

  16. I automatically tell my students that they have a 10 year minimum waiting period after graduation before they are allowed to reproduce. I say it in a joking manner, but they know that I mean that they are not ready. And I tell them so. Every time it comes up. I tell them, openly, that I know it’s futile to only teach abstinence in school. So I will teach “don’t do it until you’re prepared to handle ALL of the consequences.” I’m kind of not afraid to step outside my academic subject area (ESPECIALLY when I teach The Scarlet Letter!)

    I also remind the girls, in front of the boys, that boys who won’t wait aren’t worth it.

    My former department head used to tell us in our back-to-school meetings every year to teach from the heart, not the head. Sometimes, these kids just need our hearts. When I’ve had pregnant students, I’ve hugged them if they’ve needed hugging. Offered them a shoulder if they needed to cry. And I’ve tried to be supportive by continuing to teach them. My class might be the last one they complete, you know? So I want to know that I’ve done my best by them.

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