by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(June 25, 2008) Major media coverage of the Gloucester High School “pregnancy pact” is blaming everything for the problem but the obvious – a lack of moral education.
Time Magazine, which broke the initial story of the pact, provides the typical laundry list of reasons why 17 girls would think it’s okay to get pregnant before their 16th birthday just because they wanted something to do together: Hollywood movies, sex ed classes that end in freshman year, and the outsourcing of Gloucester’s traditional fishing industry.
Most major media echoed the same reasons. According to Colleen Raezler of the Culture and Media Institute, a child psychiatrist appearing on CBS’ Early Show pointed the finger straight at Hollywood.
“I think they might have glamorized the idea of pregnancy,” said Dr. Elizabeth Guthrie after CBS played a clip from Juno. “Movies like Juno and Knocked Up appeared to take away that stigma. And teenage pop idols getting pregnant before matrimony appears to have given their celebrity a boost. Teen actress Jamie Lynn Spears gave birth to her baby just yesterday.”
NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America hit the sex ed angle especially hard, Raezler writes.
“ABC invited liberal sexuality expert Logan Levkoff to bemoan the lack of comprehensive sex ed, and take the ritualistic whack at abstinence education.”
In the show’s transcript, Levkoff opines, “I think this is indicative of America doing a really bad job at communicating well and positively about sexuality. . . . And that means talking about everything, not just abstinence because clearly even if that’s what they’re getting that’s not what these kids are doing.”
When asked what he would suggest the residents of Gloucester do about the problem, he said,
“I would suggest that we take on comprehensive sexuality education which also talks about abstinence and why it’s important at times to be abstinent . . . ”
Apparently Levkoff is unaware of the fact that little or no mention of abstinence is included in today’s comprehensive or “safe sex” education programs, which could explain why the abstinence message he thinks they need to hear is not reaching teens.
Almost every story on the “pact” included at least one pundit calling for access to birth control pills in the school’s clinics, a policy that would only encourages exactly the kind of behavior that got the girls into trouble in the first place.
The economy was another popular culprit. As Time reporter Kathleen Kingbury said on the Today show, “Gloucester is a very, very proud community. It has a long tradition of fishing industry that has really gone away in recent years. Jobs are not there anymore and the jobs that a lot of these young people thought they were going to have are disappearing. And so none of them have a very strong life plan and so being a mother became something that they could do. It gave them an identity. They said I’m, you know, I can be someone, I can be a mother. And I think that they didn’t really have an alternative. No one offered them a better life.”
Some even blamed the town’s geographic location along with its predominant religion – Catholicism. A June 6 report by Tania deLuzuriaga of The Boston Globe said the town’s isolated location on the southeastern tip of Cape Ann, which separates it from the rest of the state by the Annisquam River, is to blame.
“Gloucester is also a tightknit community with strong Catholic roots, and twice in the last 30 years women’s clinics failed to take root. Girls who want to get contraception confidentially must go to a clinic across the river in Beverly,” deLuzuriaga writes.
What the media is missing is what Raezler points out so clearly: “All the comprehensive sexuality education in the world would not have helped these girls avoid pregnancy if they were determined to have a child.”
Something else is wrong, and we get a glimpse of what that might be as we read further into deLuzuriaga’s report.
Apparently, there has been very little shock and outrage coming from the Gloucester community over the “pact” that has had the nation buzzing for the last week. While the local newspaper has run numerous reports on the story, only two letters to the editor have been published to date. The town itself seems almost ambivalent to the story.
And so do the parents deLuzuriaga interviewed. One Gloucester native, Lori Mitchell, 46, whose daughter dropped out of school at 16 to have a baby, said there are worse ways to end up than a teenage mother. “They could be junkies or prostitutes,” she said. “You try to protect them as much as you can, but it’s up to them to do the right thing.”
Another resident, Sandy Lakeman, said she breathed a sigh of relief when her 19-year-old daughter graduated from high school and went to college in Florida. A single mother herself, she encouraged her two daughters to play sports and get part-time jobs in order to keep them out of trouble.
Obviously, there are much deeper issues lurking beneath this story, but only one commentator even came close to mentioning the stronger role parents should be playing in all this.
CBS’ Early Show co-host Julie Chen addressed parental involvement with psychologist Dr. Lisa Boesky in the last few seconds of her segment. Boesky encouraged parents to set limits:
“I think parents are sending a very clear message, ‘Don’t drink alcohol and don’t do drugs’ but I don’t think we’re sending a clear message of don’t get pregnant in your teenage years. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying while you’re in school, do not get pregnant. Parents shouldn’t be letting their girls date boys that are older than them, they shouldn’t be letting their boys date girls that are younger than them and parents have to stay involved.”
True, but the most important point of all was left out. Children need a moral compass, and they’re being raised without one. At the same time, they’re attending schools that are infested with sex education programs that define responsible sex in terms of condoms and birth control rather than in the marital commitment, mutual respect and genuine love the teens themselves say they want.
This much they made abundantly clear. When asked why so many teens were deliberately becoming pregnant in her school, Amanda Ireland, a Gloucester High student who gave birth three years ago, summed it up quite succinctly.
“They’re so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally.”
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Our culture is starving teens of the virtues and values they crave. In “The Virtues: Teens and the Joy-Filled Life,” author Mary Ann Budnik tells you how you can raise virtuous teens.