NICE GIRLS DO, YOUNG GIRLS DO, MOST GIRLS DO

That’s what teen-agers are telling us

Connie is 15 and the mother of a lively 2-year-old. She lives in the Letot Juvenile Detention Center: her baby lives in a foster home. Ange-la, 17, gave birth last spring to a baby girl. She hopes she can finish high school. At sweet 16, Sandy has two children, ages 4 and 1 1/2. Noel, 18, has had two abortions. Mindy has had three. She’s 13.

Teen-agers grappling with the early lessons of love in the back seat of a car. What else is new?

Well, for one, it’s the alarming rate at which their progeny are being born: some 64 an hour, and just as many are aborted. It’s the fact that Dallas leads the seven largest U.S. cities in teen-age pregnancies; the U.S. leads the industrialized world. New is a recent study that found school-age pregnancies spread equally among Dallas-area black, Hispanic and white neighborhoods. It’s a statistic that says that 96 percent of teen-agers who give birth keep their babies-often landing both mothers and children in lives of poverty and dependence.

For all their suppleness and sophistication, teen-agers know remarkably little about the facts of sex. Myths persist. Pregnancies happen more by chance than by choice, creating a panoply of problems: premature birth, infant mortality, birth defects, child abuse. The costs to the community are high-both in human terms and in hard, cold cash.

Why are so many children bringing children into the world? Experts point to low self-esteem, ignorance of the consequences of sex, family instability, broken homes. To hear a cross-section of teen-agers speak out on sex and pregnancy is to glean insights that experts sometimes miss. These are your children, your neighbors, your babysitters, your friends. Is anybody listening?

“When I found out I was pregnant, my first thoughts were, you know, ’what am I gonna do with a baby?’ I was working at Mc Donald’s at the time, and when I walked to work I’d get sick and all. I thought it was the smell of the food. But one day Mama said, ’Something’s wrong with you.’ So we went over to the clinic and I got the checkup and they said it was positive and like, I just broke down in tears.” –Angela, 17



“The majority of girls in high school are sexually active. It starts at about eighth grade and goes on up.”

Sharon, 19



“Where I am in Richardson, the thing is for a girl to lose her virginity by the time she’s 16. And there’s a lot of pressure on that.

Steve, 18



“Ours was just the classic case of we-never-thought-it-would-happen-to-us. We started having sex last summer, when we began to talk about getting married after a couple of years of college. We’d been active for about two months when I got pregnant.”

Sharon



“It happened on my second time.”

Elaine, 17



“I think sex is a really special thing, and I think you should really, really care about somebody. I will even go so far as to say I think you should be married. But, you know, it’s your life.” –Connie, 15



“If a girl gets pregnant, I don’t have no feeling for her at all, ’cause they did it ’cause they wanted to.” –Stacy, 12



“If they’re old enough to have sexual in tercourse, you know, then they ought to be old enough and mature enough to take re sponsibility for it.” –Connie



“People like to think that it’s the heat of the moment, and you just can’t stop to ask about birth control or anything. But sometimes a guy gets scared to death when it crosses his mind that, hey. what if she’s not? But nobody ever stops to ask.”

Steve



“I think any kind of birth control is on the part of the girl.” –Mike, 14



“I feel that it’s just as much the guy’s responsibility as the girl’s to use some form of birth control. ’Cause a lot of guys will drop you like a hot potato when you get pregnant, and that’s just not right.”

Connie



“The biggest problem is that there’s no one to talk to. People don’t like to go to their parents. I mean, I’m not gonna go and say, ’Hey, Dad, I’ve got this big problem. I’m gonna have sex tonight.’ There’s a real big problem there. There’s nobody to talk to. There’s counselors at school and all, and I thought they’d help you out. But they don’t, so you don’t ask. It’s an untouched subject.”

Steve



“I don’t know if my mother was afraid to talk to me, or what.” –Sharon



“Some teen-agers are getting pregnant ’cause their mothers don’t sit with them and tell them about sex. Some mothers are out there gettin’ drugs and stealin’ stuff and goin’ to jail, and they don’t have no time for them.” –Nicole, 13



“My parents said to me, you know, if you ever want to know anything about sex, you just come and ask. But when I did, I got accused of doin’ it. And then you’re in trouble and you’re afraid to ask anymore.”

Tammy, 16



“There’s a lot of information on the street, but a lot of it is wrong. Like most kids think that using rhythm or withdrawal can keep you from getting pregnant. My boyfriend and I used withdrawal, then I would come home and douche. I’ve since found out that’s the worst thing you can do. It just makes things worse, if you know what I mean.”

Sharon



“I know girls who say, ’Well, if we’re go ing to experience this and get out of getting pregnant, we’ll do it before we start our menstrual cycles.’ Well, that just doesn’t cut the cheese. I knew a girl who got pregnant that way, ’cause you just never know when you’re about to start.” –Connie



“Pregnancies are never accidents.”

Katrina, 16



“Kids learn everything on the street. Most teen-agers do know about birth control and about how and where to get it. But most of them don’t use it.” –Tammy



“Clinics aren’t really hard to find. You can just look in the Yellow Pages. You can call, and they give you free information. Some even give free birth control pills until the age of 18. And you don’t have to have your parents’ permission. I think that’s really good ’cause a lot of kids are having sex, and they’re afraid to let their parents know, so they’re not getting birth control.”

Connie



“I would go to my mom if I wanted to go on birth control, ’cause maybe she could help you better than anyone else. I mean, she wouldn’t say ’great’ or anything, but she’d say it’s good you came to me before you did anything.’ ” –Stacy



“Your first reaction is to get rid of it. But in my case, we just couldn’t do it. I mean, you never know when it becomes a real human being or anything. We thought about adoption, too, but my grandmother said that if we did that, she would raise it herself. So the only thing to do was to get married.”

Sharon

“If you’ve made the decision to get an abortion, you don’t really stop to contem plate when an embryo becomes a human be ing and whether you’re committing murder or not. You either do it or you don’t. It’s only afterward that you really stop to consider the consequences.” –Kay, 19



“Abortion is too easy. It’s a quick, quiet way out.” – Steve



“When I came home from the clinic, I told my boyfriend I was pregnant, and he said, ’Well, what are you gonna do?’ At the time, I thought I wanted an abortion. I don’t think I would’ve done it, but it was just the first thing that came to my mind. Well, he said he was against abortion, but if that’s what I wanted to do, you know. But he’d help me take care of it if I wanted to have it. But my mother said, ’No, you’re not going to get an abortion. If you do, you’re gonna leave.’ That’s kinda funny. Usually they put you out when you’re pregnant, but she said, ’What if I had gotten an abortion with you?’ And that got me thinkin’. ” –Angela



“The way I look at it is, I’m here, and I have the chance to make a choice about abortion. I think a baby should have that same chance.” –Connie



“I ended up in one of those clinics that ran girls through like they were cattle. The place was real clean, but it was cold and depressing, with hard linoleum floors and old vinyl furniture. You get there, and they make you wait forever. I was pretty cool compared to the girls around me, but inside, I was scared to death. It’s that fear of the unknown and it has to do with your body. I didn’t think I was going to die or anything, but it’s like this man has control over your body and all. And everywhere you look, there are girls around you in the same boat. You can make an appointment, but it’s really first-come, first-serve. I got there at 7:30, and there were eight to 10 people ahead of me in the line.”

-Kay

“I want to say something about abortion. If the state can make it legal, then I guess I’ll trust their judgment. I mean, you know, they’ve given us that choice either to have the baby or not. So they’re tellin’ us that abortion is OK. Still, if I got pregnant again today, I would definitely have it. I just couldn’t deprive another human being of its life. If one of my friends were to come tell me she was pregnant, I’d tell her there are lots of people who would really love to have a baby, and she should watch what she eats and not mess around with drugs to make it a really healthy baby for two loving people. And I mean, God will understand. I know He doesn’t understand me, ’cause I had abortions two times.” –Noel, 18



“I don’t know how any girl could give up her own flesh and blood.” –Mindy, 13



“It was hard, but I know my baby will have a better life with a family with two parents and hopefully a brother or sister and a back yard and all. I made the decision to go to Gladney when my boyfriend chickened out of the marriage. And I got to ask for the kind of family I wanted her to have, and I got everything I wanted. Even more.”

Elaine



“You know what a teen-ager’s life is like when she tries to raise a baby? Pitiful.”

Stacy



“Sometimes I think I had some of those baby blues. You know, I’d just be sittin’ there and holdin’ her and watchin’ TV and all, and seems like I’d just start cry in’ for no reason. And then everybody, her father would be here, and he’d say, ’What’s wrong? What you cryin’ for, girl?’ ” –Angela



“I can’t say I have regrets, really. But I wish we had waited. I was president of the honor society, and I was going to get a golf scholarship to college. My big dreams of four-year college are kind of shattered. And I guess his are, too. But marriage is OK if you’ve got two people really willing to work hard and give up a lot.” –Sharon



“Before I got pregnant, we were thinkin’ about marriage. He’d say, ’Oh, I want to marry you.’ But it seems like I never heard that after I was pregnant.” –Angela



“I have a son who’s 15 months old, and I didn’t get pregnant by accident. I did want to do it, and I know a lot of people who get pregnant at a really young age, and they did it because they wanted to get married. But I would say to any girl who gets pregnant on purpose so they can: It doesn’t always work.” –Tammy

“I want to go on to school, but… now I’ve got a baby, and I don’t know whether to leave her with Mama or take her with me or what.” -Angela



“It’s frustrating taking care of him some times, but you know, I know my baby loves me. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever had any responsibility.” –Tammy



“Well, I would do anything to go back in time and not do what I did. And I’ll tell anybody. My advice to you is to keep it un til you’re married.” –Connie

“In my area, the problem of teen-age pregnancy is really simple. Dad gives you the MasterCard, and that’s how it’s handled.”

Greg, 17

SEX ED: WHEN WILL MOLLY GROW UP?

ONE MYSTERIOUS DAY when I was in the fifth grade, the girls in my class filed into the film room to watch Molly Grows Up. That was sex education-the beginning and the end. Oh, my mother handed me a little pamphlet once. But even after two readings I failed to grasp the crucial clause.

Admittedly, this archaism occurred 20-plus years ago. We’re in the Information Age now-the slick, glossy, blatant, bare-breasted, rapid-transmission era of ideas. Well, guess what? Today’s kids don’t know much more about sex than we did. They don’t buy condoms any more brazenly than the boys in Summer of ’42. They cling persistently to the naive notion that “it” won’t happen to them. The only shattering of innocence seems to have come in the belief that their peers are as sexually active as they are. In my day, you were guiltless until proven otherwise.

If it’s true that sexual encounters in high school and junior high are the norm, then the question of sex education is as critical as it is controversial. Battle lines are drawn quickly when it comes to when, where, what and how much teens and preteens should be told about sex. There’s the moralistic ostrich mentality that says: ’”What they don’t know, they won’t do.” On the other extreme are “progressives” who believe that sex education should be detailed, complete and value-free. Somewhere in the middle is a vast void that leaves proponents of meaningful sex education dangling, opponents of sex education complacent, and a new generation that is increasingly daring with sex, yet lacking the emotional framework to deal with its complexities.

The problem is not a dearth of information about human anatomy. “Kids today know quite a bit about their plumbing,” says Mary Jo Crist, who is chairman of a Richardson center called Family Outreach. “But what they don’t have is the moral fortitude not to yield to peer pressure. They don’t know about options in birth control and how to use them responsibly.” Kids aren’t getting lessons in decision-making, adolescent specialists say. They have little guidance in how to say no.

And that’s precisely what gets the goat of moral reformers such as Lottie Beth Hobbs, president of Fort Worth-based Pro-Family Forum, a national non-profit organization. “You simply cannot teach sex education without also teaching certain standards,” she says. “The way the schools have it set up, the teachers’ hands are tied. They are told not to be judgmental, but if they really want to deal with consequences, they have to deal with morals. If you give a child a set of decisions without a set of morals, you are telling her that one decision is just as good as another. It’s child abuse to put on the thin, frail shoulders of a 9- or 10-year-old the responsibility for a decision that will affect the rest of her life.”

According to Dr. Mary Merki, who is in charge of the DISD’s Health Education Program, co-author of DISD’s highly touted sex education program and coordinator of Mrs. Starke Taylor’s Adolescent Health and School Age Pregnancy Task Force, Lottie Beth, and others like her, exaggerate. “To say that we’re teaching sex without values is ridiculous,” says Merki. “There’s no such thing as a value-free education of any sort.”

Ironically, the controversy over morals is moot in most schools in the Metroplex. Most students don’t get any sex education at all. The DISD sex education program, which has attracted national attention for its parental involvement in every aspect, is available only to students in the 5th and 7th grades and high school. But that’s 100 percent more than pupils are offered in suburban school districts like Wilmer-Hutchins, Mesquite and Plano.

How long will we continue to ignore a vital aspect of a problem that continues to grow in alarming proportions? When will we stop worrying about putting the cart before the horse? When will we reach a ma jority of students with instructional pro grams that emphasize the harsh realities of teen-age parenthood and stress self-worth and self-respect? -RMF

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