We doubt there is a shorter path to poverty than to have a child as a teenager. But even that can be quickened with the addition of a second or perhaps a third child.
All the statistics testify to the same future: When teenage girls become pregnant, their odds of an education and a career are greatly diminished and their children join in suffering the consequences of impending and pervasive poverty. Don’t depend on Dad because he won’t be around. The grandparents will join in raising the children. And perhaps worst of all, the innocent newborns will most likely be next in this lengthening line to a life of less.
Is there anything more selfish than a child having a baby?
Yet in Robeson County, it happens all the time as we rank 11th in the state in the rate of teenage mothers. During 2011, 355 girls in Robeson County changed their first soiled diaper.
If there is good news, it’s hard to find, but we will go with this: The rate has been declining in recent years, and Bill Smith, the director of the county Health Department, is convinced that is because of outreach programs that focus more on prevention and less on the folly that teenagers can be talked out of having sex.
Yet in Robeson County, fixed as we are in the middle of the Bible Belt, our strategy has been to cross our fingers and look away and pretend that our children’s hormones will keep themselves in check. Sex education in schools has focused on abstinence, with educators saying this is a subject that is best broached at home, except that isn’t happening — at least not with the desired results.
In an ideal world, one that doesn’t exist, that is how it would be done. Parents would sit down with their children as they near puberty, have an honest discussion about sex, highlight the benefits of waiting — and then pound home the consequences of not doing so, which for the girls is to buy baby formula instead of a prom dress.
But too often that doesn’t happen, which is why comprehensive sex education is needed in our schools. Instead our school board has decided that sex education should be steered more toward abstinence, and less toward contraception, the threat of STD’s and the consequences of becoming a mother or a father while in high school or even middle school.
There is a chasm between an abstinence-only approach and handing out free condoms, but that ground hasn’t been sufficiently explored because the conversation is just too uncomfortable.
It seems clear to us that this county’s approach hasn’t work historically — in 2008 Robeson County’s rate of teen mothers was No. 2 in North Carolina — and if the tide has been stemmed out all, it is because of a slight shift toward a more comprehensive approach that comes from outside the halls of our schools.
We can continue doing as we have done, and we all know what that guarantees — that we continue to raise generations of children who are born into a world with a pretty sorry hand to play.
What could be more unfair?