Pregnancy not the only danger for our daughters

After pondering the Bristol Palin pregnancy revelation for several days, I realize the need to wrap two serious issues with the potential to be deadly into one post: teen pregnancy and dating violence. They’re not only connected, they’re so closely interwoven that you can’t talk about one without the other.

I say this because of the recent study I wrote about in July. Commissioned by Liz Claiborne, Inc., it found that pre-teens (“tweens”) as young as 11-years-old are dating AND becoming victims of violence in the process.

Such violence can and does lead to pregnancy, as a 1995 Alan Guttmacher Institute study found. It revealed men age 20 or older fathered 66-percent of the babies born to teen mothers. Which makes it, by definition, child abuse. This problem hasn’t gone away; it’s just been swept under the rug until just such a time as this: The daughter of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is about to become an unwed mother (until she marries her teenage boyfriend, Levi Johnston).

Because a national audience is focused on a young woman who, by all rights, should be given the dignity of bearing her child in private, and also because the national teen pregnancy rate spiked in 2006 for the first time in 14 years, there is no better time to talk about the repercussions of teen dating and pregnancy than now.

The other consequence from teen dating can be seen by what happened to Sami Hightshoe and Lindsay Burke: Sami was repeatedly sexually abused in the woods behind her school and in her own home by her boyfriend, from the age of 14 until she finally found a way to end the relationship—with a restraining order against the guy. To protect Sami, her family had to spend $6,000 in legal fees.


Why today’s parents need Joe Klein and Liz Claiborne, Inc.

Already enough has been said about the “Gloucester 17” so I won’t contribute too much to that particular avenue of thought. Instead, I will say there are many problems facing teens these days, and most adults aren’t even aware of what they are, or how to deal with them. In turn those problems lead to adult, family and even societal problems.
Yes, Americans do have sexual hang-ups, and no, they don’t do a very good job at teaching their children about sex and sexuality. But both topics are a necessity if we want to help teens reach their emotional, psychological and financial potential. Because a teen mother burdened with the chore of caring for a baby over an 18-year (usually more like 20 years, plus) period, definitely misses out on her potential. In most cases.
In some cases, though, what happens can be far worse than that. I spoke about one of these scenarios in my Aug. 3, 2007, column at the Cumberland Times-News last year: it discusses mothers who kill their children. Evidently, I wasn’t the only person who thought it was an important issue—the column took second place in the critical thinking category in the 2007 Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association contest. (See: Many factors involved when mothers kill.)
Reading about experiences like mine, a teen mother of four children who nearly took that route myself, is one way to become educated about the real dangers facing our young people. Another is to look on the Web, where any number of great sites are available to help parents figure out how what the problems are, and then how to help their children.
For instance, Liz Claiborne, Inc., has been working to prevent domestic violence (a very large problem for our families) since 1991. Check out their site at Love is not Abuse. The other site it operates, the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (Love is Respect), offers teens great advice about how to remain healthy during dating relationships. The company has even come up with a curriculum for use in schools, to help teens stay free of such violence.
Sites like these are good because teen sex isn’t the only thing too many parents fail to talk to their children about—so is teen violence. In fact, it’s something that few parents are even aware exists. But it does and guess what? If you take a teen, add some dating violence that includes sex, you have sexual abuse. And sexual abuse can and does result in teen pregnancy.
Just ask Joe Klein, the Time reporter who in 1996 wrote a “Public Lives” column, “The Predator Problem,” for Newsweek.