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Teen Pregnancy: No Big Deal?

“If I got pregnant,” my 17-year-old asked casually the other night while she and a friend were talking about a girl they knew who’d gotten knocked up, “would you want me to keep it or get rid of it?”

“We’d want you to keep it,” I said. “I mean, having a baby and giving it up for adoption would be extremely traumatizing. But I think abortion as a teen would haunt you more later in life, especially since you live in a family that could deal with a pregnancy.”

She nodded, still looking a little too casual for my comfort. Oh. No. Juno.

“But you would totally be grounded the whole time!” I added quickly.

The blase attitude melted. “What?!” she sputtered. “Grounded?!” This hadn’t figured into her scenario at all.

“Yes. Grounded.” I said flatly. “For the duration.”

She sighed heavily and began discussing with her friend whether it would be fair to be grounded during pregnancy. The whole thing was more than a little unnerving. After seventeen and her friend had graduated from junior high, several girls from their neighborhood school had gotten pregnant and gone through with having their babies, either letting their moms raise the child or giving it up for adoption. The two girls talked about teen pregnancy like it wasn’t all that out of the ordinary.

It didn’t help matters, I realized, that Juno had emerged as one of seventeen’s all-time favorite movies. And why not? It was a funny, heartwarming film, and Juno was the kind of girl with whom many teens could identify, a smart, sarcastic, and deeply witty teen who didn’t quite fit in with the high school crowd. The problem was that in Juno’s Hollywood-ized world, a girl could get pregnant, face a minimum of criticism from friends and family, give her baby up for adoption, get her man, and live happily ever after in blissful song-singing satisfaction.

The image is so potentially problematic that USA Today now has devoted an entire article to it.

Here’s an excerpt:

Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, is concerned about the message girls will get from Juno, which she believes is unrealistic. The movie paints a portrait of a pregnant teen who is not only extremely self-possessed but who also has a very supportive family.

“Adults understand the bigger picture and what the risks are of adolescence and childbearing,” Brown says. “Adolescents see it through the lens of the ‘me generation.’ Adolescence is also a self-absorbed time. If the baby got handed off and she got the boyfriend back (as happens in Juno), what’s the problem?”

Brown says part of her concern is the film’s tone toward unintended pregnancy. “We’re all now tolerant and non-judgmental. Apparently that now extends to getting pregnant and having babies,” she says.

It’s a tough call. On one hand, I don’t think we as a society should come down too hard on a pregnant teen who’s chosen to have her baby. She has made a brave decision, one that will brand her with what’s essentially a large sign bearing the words “I had premarital sex” for months. Pregnancy and its aftermath were some of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever faced. I don’t feel I need to add to it with a disapproving glance when I see a teenager with a baby bump.

On the other hand, I feel squeamish hearing my stepdaughter and her friend discuss it like it’s no big deal. I was appalled to hear about a baby shower one of my stepdaughter’s pregnant acquaintances had, one that was given and attended by teen girls. I don’t want her to feel like getting pregnant is just one of many possible and unexpected directions her life could take, hence my ridiculous behavior when the subject came up.

“It would be weird to be grounded while you’re pregnant,” my stepdaughter’s friend said. “But Laney’s mom wouldn’t let her wear makeup after she got pregnant, so .. ” I giggled, despite myself.

“Okay, she wouldn’t really be grounded,” I said. “I just don’t want you guys to think that it wouldn’t be a big, horrible ordeal. Because it would. Having sex in high school is just a really bad idea.”

“It’s not just pregnancy,” her friend mused. “You could also get an STD,”

“But aren’t those curable?” my stepdaughter asked.

“The problem is, you don’t always know you’ve got one until its done serious damage,” I said ominously. “You could end up with major problems. Infertility. Cancer. Bad, bad problems.” I must have looked like a moron. This was not how I’d pictured myself discussing teen sex at all.

So how will you handle it with your kids when the time comes? How did you handle it, if you have older children? And do you worry that Jamie Lynn Spears, movies like Juno, and even pregnant teens in your own community will give your kids the impression that teen pregnancy is no longer that big of an issue?

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