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

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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.

Referencing a 1995 Alan Guttmacher Institute study, Klein correctly informed us that the majority of teen mothers become pregnant by adult men. His column also pointed to a 1990 California survey, which reported that those teen girls were 10 years younger than the men who fathered their babies.
If you’re still not convinced, that survey was looking at girls who were only 11 or 12. And this was 18 years ago, when we weren’t ready to accept that children that young were willingly having sex. As it turns out, most of them weren’t. A 1992 Washington state study Klein also highlighted found that 62-percent of 535 teen moms were victims of rape or molestation. The men guilty of these crimes were, on average, age 27.
I wonder how many of those very young teen moms ended up like me? I referenced my August 2007 column for a reason—because it’s timely. Teen dating, teen pregnancy, sexual abuse and filicide-suicide are sadly, all too often interwoven themes we refuse to see. But the pattern’s there. We just have to look for it.
And it’s time parents and society understands this. If the Gloucester 17 doesn’t serve as a wake-up call for parents to stop being afraid of talking to their children about sex, if Klein’s article doesn’t help society see fingers are being pointed in the wrong direction and if my experience, as one such pregnant teen, once upon a time, doesn’t do the trick, then it’s quite possible nothing will.
If so, then we may just go the way of Rome.


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