Life has its challenges to overcome, ups and downs and passages to get safely through, but for the most part, if we work at it, life is good.
Sometimes, the challenges can be truly daunting — especially if you’re a teen girl sitting with your family at the dinner table, explaining that you’re pregnant but hoping to continue with the 10th grade.
Those who’ve never been in such a situation may find the scene amusing. Believe us, it is anything but. It is one of those life moments that is etched, permanently, in the psyche. For the strong, it usually works out. For too many others it’s a disaster.
Yet, surprisingly for adults who may not remember the challenges of those teen years, a lot of teens are getting pregnant — and it is an especially critical issue for North County teens.
Santa Barbara County ranks 16th out of California’s 58 counties in the teen birth rate, and almost always the rate is higher than the overall state and national averages.
The high ranking — or low ranking, depending on your point of view — is baffling to some but really not that difficult to explain. Cultural mores and a general lack of sex education are the core causes of the high teen birth rate.
On average, American teens are having sex for the first time at the age of 17. And in that age group only about a third receive any formal instruction about contraception. The education establishment is somewhat divided on the issue of sex ed in the classroom, in large part because many teachers and adults believe it’s a matter of discussion between teen and mom and dad. Many others are philosophically opposed to teaching kids about sex, especially contraception, because they believe such education actually encourages promiscuity.
All of which leads to the usual conclusion to any discussion about sex education with the following bromide — don’t have sex. That is, after all, a surefire way to avoid getting pregnant.
But it also ignores natural inclinations of kids slowly growing into adulthood, with hormones raging and amid a bombardment of media advertising, television shows and movies that treat sex in a cavalier manner, which encourages teens to do what adults are doing.
The problem is, most teens are simply not equipped to handle the stresses and strains of parenthood. Growing up includes learning about such things. If the baby comes before the ability to properly care for her or him, the family social fabric begins to unravel.
Often, as the teen girl is explaining to mom and dad about having sex and getting pregnant, it comes as a complete surprise to the parents. That shouldn’t be. Parents should be able to talk to their kids about anything, and vice-versa. Sadly, that’s not what is happening — and that’s where we acquire the high teen birth rate, year after year.
It sounds trite to say, but honestly, abstinence is the best policy and the best prevention for teen pregnancy. Short of that ideal, however, it is painfully evident we need to do a better job of educating children about the responsibilities and challenges of adulthood — and parenthood.
It’s best if that education occurs in the home, but if it doesn’t happen there, it needs to happen in our schools. If nothing else, teens need to know the fundamentals.
This newspaper examines teen pregnancy in a series starting today and continuing for the next two Sundays. We hope you read every word, and make sure the teens in your home read every word. Their happiness may depend on it.