September 03, 2008
The Elephant in the Room/Blogosphere
Posted by Christine Hurt

I have not posted anything this week.  This is because for the past three days I can only think about one thing, and I don't want to post about it.  Gordon and I began this blog almost four years ago, right after the 2004 presidential election.  From the beginning, we have shied away from politics.  (According to Dave Hoffman, this is for the best.)  Of course, sometimes we just can't help it.  Of course, this week, I have been thinking about Sarah Palin.  I'm been concerned with the political aspects of it -- is there any talent there?  experience?  judgment?  These debates are everywhere, and pretty much people see what they want to see.  But this summer, Palin's story is a cautionary tale that has woken me up.

I have certain things in common with Palin -- I, too, am a hockey mom.  I have more kids than the national average, and I, too, have done my job with newborns.  My sister's child has Down Syndrome.  I also have a daughter, and this is where my thoughts have gone.  My daughter is 9 and in the 5th grade.  This summer, I have wrestled within myself what to tell her -- you know, "the talk."  If she were 9 and in the 3rd grade, I'd blow it off, and if she were 11 and in the 5th grade, I'd forge ahead, but instead I was conflicted.  I think I have been moved from my comfort zone now by news of Bristol Palin's pregnancy.

I'm going to say it -- teenage pregnancy is bad.  Not "wrong," not "morally wrong," but bad.  Teenagers are designed to have sex, specifically to have babies.  This is nature's way of making sure there are enough people.  And babies aren't bad -- babies are wonderful.  I have 3 and usually wish I had a few more.  Unfortunately, evolution has not caught up with the fact that in our world, being superfertile at 35 would be better than being superfertile at 17.  In our world, both men and women have higher chances of economic success and personal satisfaction if they delay pregnancy, get an education, and begin their careers and married lives.  But nature still works to make sure that teenagers fulfill their role in the survival of the species.  That still doesn't make it desirable.  Teenage pregnancy should be avoided, for both individual concerns as well as public concerns.  High teenage pregnancy rates affect infant mortality rates as well as claims on our public resources.  Surely no one would disagree that society is better off when babies are born to mature adults in committed relationships who have planned for these babies.  And most teenagers aren't Jamie Lynn Spears, Bristol Palin or even Juno MacGuff.  Getting pregnant usually doesn't end up in a big family hug, media attention, or getting the guy in the end.  I'm glad the Palins are making the best of the situation, but let's not pretend that it's a good situation, an enviable situation, or a situation to be emulated.

It seems as if the media is basically saying that we cannot judge the Palins because there are two choices, not to have sex or to have babies, and we all know that teenagers have sex (see above).  But there are more choices than that.  We can (1) tell teenagers not to have sex; (2) tell teenagers not to have sex, but if they do, they should use birth control; or (3) tell teenagers who have had sex and lost at fertilization roullette to have an abortion.  For many and various reasons, #3 is not palatable to many people.  But #1 seems to have some flaws in the execution for many, but obviously not all, teenagers.  So why don't we focus on #2?  (I've read in various places that Palin has taken a stand against birth control, so possibly #2 was off the table for the Palin family -- so, I guess that's a different discussion.)  Well, I've decided that in my house, we're going the #2 route whenever that installment of "the talk" takes place.

Would I prefer that my daughter didn't have sex as a teenager?  (or ever?)  Of course.  Will I do everything I can to make sure that she isn't in a position where this is abundantly possible?  ("Hey, kids, why are the lights off in the basement?  Anybody want popcorn?")  Of course.  Will I try to educate my child on the religious as well as the health reasons to delay sexual activity?  Of course.  Do I think I have a 100% chance of success?  No.  Do I think that my child should have to face the lifelong consequences of my failure rate?  No. 

When my kids take their bicycles out, I tell them not to cross certain busy streets.  I tell them to be careful.  I tell them not to fall.  I tell them not to do tricks and to keep their hands on the handlebars.  If they never fall, they don't need a helmet.  But I know that there is a chance that some kid sometime is going to dare them to jump a curb, or cross a busy street.  Maybe sometime they'll forget to look both ways.  I don't want to be with them at the hospital saying, "You should have listened to me" to a comatose child.  Instead, I give them a helmet.  So, at least for me, I need to start having uncomfortable talks with my daughter so she'll have a figurative helmet, just in case.  (And no, I don't think I escape having the same talks with my sons, either.  As the say, it takes two to tango.)

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