Last month I participated in The Great American Teach-In, an annual event where schools invite professionals to come in to talk to the students about what they do and how they got there. The school I was invited to is a drop-out prevention school that ominously sits across the street from the county jail. The 7AM class is a teen parenting class and I decided to take my 20-month-old daughter with me and talk about what it’s like to be a Public Health Professional and a mom. I wanted to show them that they don’t have to give up on their education or passions just because they are mothers.
After that first class, I took my daughter to day care and returned for the rest of the day. For those classes, I told them how I became a Sex Educator and why the job is so cool. I also gave each class a condom demonstration. I talked about male condoms, female condoms, dental dams, and flavored condoms, how to use them properly, what they can help prevent, how to negotiate condom use with a partner, etc. In these regular classes, there was at least one more pregnant teen and several teen fathers, including one who claimed he has five kids.
Once the students realize that I respect them and give them real, honest answers, you can literally feel the tone in the classroom change. Witnessing this shift lets me know that they appreciate my presence, my knowledge, and my willingness to meet them where they are. It feeds my soul.
It’s easy to blame teen parents for being irresponsible but I don’t see it that way. When I asked how many of them have parents who talk to them about sex, only 2 or 3 tentative hands went up in each class. Combine that with teachers who are afraid to say too much because they don’t want to ruffle the feathers of administration and parents with states that don’t set sex education standards and a general head-in-the-sand attitude about sex and birth control in the country – you no longer get permission to place all the blame on the teens. We continue to provide a colossal injustice to them and then say, “Tsk, tsk, you should have known better.” Really? Just how could they have known better?
One of my new favorite blogs is The Push Back, a “space to push back against all that ignorance, bitterness, and prejudice and show what young parenthood really looks like.” I love when young people get pissed off and find constructive ways of making themselves heard. Often, when I tell people that I teach topics like birth control to teen parents, they give some snide remark such as, “Isn’t that kinda like a day late and a dollar short?” Yes and no.
Yes, they are getting the education too late. Birth control education isn’t offered in middle school and even in high school, nor is one class period enough. Too many parents think that talking about birth control is a permission slip to risky behaviors – encouraging your teen to wear a seat doesn’t give them permission to speed.
And no, it isn’t too late to educate teen parents about birth control. Why? Chances are, they are still having sex or will someday soon. They need to know that they can have control over their bodies. They need to know that we haven’t given up on them. We can’t give up on teen parents because if we do, we also give up on their children and neither deserves yet another layer of injustice.