Let me start off by saying that I am not an expert, my husband and I are doing the best that we can to raise our daughter in what we feel is the “right way” in an overly sexualized society where little girls are growing up too quickly.
Am I the only one to notice that we have to many baby showers and not enough graduation parties? I don’t feel that Sweet Sixteen party gifts should be diapers and wipes. There are way too many “Congratulations” and “I am so proud of you” statements thrown around on Facebook and Twitter when unwed, teenage mothers give birth to their first, second, third and/or fourth child. What are we proud of? Another teenager having unprotected sex and adding to negative statistics associated with this generation. I would rather see the congratulatory remarks made towards teenage girls with acceptance letters and scholarships to college. I am not passing judgment on anyone, but I am confused about how and when this paradigm shifted and teenage pregnancy became common and sociably acceptable.
I work as a school and a community mental health counselor in the metro Atlanta area. Some of my co-workers have teased me about having a sixth sense when it comes to predicting future teenage parents. I am definitely not bragging and I do my best to intervene by spending extra time with some of the young ladies that I feel are moving too fast. Unfortunately, many people assume that girls from broken homes or underprivileged girls are the only students that become unwed teen parents. If and when these situations occur “in their neighborhoods” or “in their families” it’s treated as an isolated situation that was caused by “outside influences”.
With BET, MTV, VH1 and BRAVO raising our children we are all in a world of trouble! Teen Moms, 16 and Pregnant, Video Vixens, Kim Kardashian and other “reality characters” are the role models for many children today. Long gone are the days of The Cosby Show, A Different World, Small Wonder, Family Ties, Family Matters Punky Bruster and Sister Sister. Even girls on “children channels” are improperly dressed, developed bodies and are chasing after boys or “going out” with each other. The “tween” programs show teen pregnancies, abortions and drugs. Children do not get a chance to be innocent anymore. It is as if they go from Sesame Street to strip clubs, then we wonder why little girls are so grown!
This has gone unnoticed by many parents because they assume that the shows on “safe channels” like TeenNick and Disney are all age appropriate. Again, I may be old fashion, but I want to have the first conversation about dating, sex, pregnancy, abortions, sexuality and drugs with my children. My husband and I make an ongoing effort to watch new television shows with our children. It is a bonding opportunity and we want to make sure the shows meet our approval. If an inappropriate situation occurs or if my daughter has a question we are there to have a frank discussion. We use these times as teachable moments. I don’t feel that we can or should shelter our daughters from the negative situations of the word; however, we should equip them with the necessary knowledge to avoid certain pitfalls in life.
Since many children have premium channels in their bedrooms and are unsupervised they are watching what they want to watch. I have had students in elementary school sleep in class because they stayed up late watching The Jersey Shore, Jackass, and/or any of The Housewives series. Children come back to school talking about PG-13 and Rated R movies that they saw over the weekends (both with and without their parents). When children, in particular little girls are exposed to so many adult topics, language and inappropriate situations they tend to imitate them. Whatever derogatory name used on the ratchet show “Du jour” I usually hear about it at school the next day. I am positive that there will be ratchet programs for little girls to watch when they are old enough to decipher the difference between “reality” and real life. Watching non-age appropriate television shows does not make a girl more likely to become a teenage mother; however, not being able to separate fiction from “fake reality” makes it likely.
Have you had the pleasure of shopping for a tween or even a little girl in the past three to five years? Well, if you haven’t, let me set the stage for you, the shorts are smaller and the pants are tighter and the straps are thinner. I cannot tell if I am in a child store or a stripper emporium! Shoe shopping is equally as hard for tweens because heels and wedges are on each shelf. I have an 11-year-old young lady that I am attempting to raise. I do not feel that it is appropriate for her (or any other child that age) to have her butt cheeks hanging out of her shorts or heels on her feet. Call me old fashion (and I have been, even by my daughter) but I am attempting to raise a future wife, a future pediatrician and a respectable young lady.
Some parents haven’t noticed or don’t have issues with the way they are sexualizing and allowing their children to grow up way to early. If children are openly dating, going out or allowed to have boyfriends in the third grade what will they have to look forward to in middle and high school? If little girls are wearing makeup and heels in elementary school, what will be next? Many of these same girls are mothers before, or if, they graduate high school. When this happens parents are shocked! Why? They set the stage several years ago when the lines between parent and child became blurred. Many children today have older friends not parents. Many parents are too scared, too busy or just don’t care enough to make the unpopular or tough decisions for their children. This is one of the many (NOT ALL) reasons that the last few generations of children are running amuck, are strung out on drugs, are underemployed and are not responsible adults. We need to let little girls be little girls as long as possible. Their innocence needs to be preserved as long as possible.
I do not have all of the answers, I am not a perfect parent, and my children are not perfect! As an educator, a mental health professional and a parent I have the luxury of seeing children from three different vantage points. As parents, I feel that it is our duty to make sure our daughters are informed and educated about the consequences of having sex too early, about unprotected sex and teenage pregnancy. We should be talking to our daughters, watching our daughters, dressing them age appropriately, validating their worth, preaching about the value of education, while preserving their innocence as long as possible. By doing these things, I feel that we have a better shot of producing more a generation of successful and independent women and less teenage baby mamas.
DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this article is NOT to bash or demean teenage mothers. Once the deed is done, the teenage mother still has an opportunity to be educated and become a successful woman. The path for the teenage mother will take a lot more dedication and effort but the sky is still the limit!