Thursday, February 9, 2012

It's a Brave New World

    Whether you watch Teen Mom on MTV or patrol a nearby high school, the face of the teen parent is stereotypically defined as female, despite the male biology necessary to make teen parenting happen at all.

   And, if you see the teen single mother through the eyes of some recent political candidates, you’d think she’s as stealthy and sneaky as a burglar, hogging up resources and government checks. But, in the real world we all live in, she is a cousin you grew up with, a friend at school who had sex for the first time and the condom broke or she was the pitcher on the softball team. She’s all of us.

   One girl determined to expose and defeat the stereotype about teen mothers did it in a very interesting way. Gaby Rodriguez conducted a social experiment on teen pregnancy. Rodriguez was a high school senior, anticipating her future in college when she decided to make the decision to fake a pregnancy in order to see the stereotypes of being a pregnant teen.

   “I really wanted to do a senior project that would impact my school; I wanted to do something that would not only teach me something but teach my fellow classmates something too,” Rodriguez said in an interview with Rachel Cohen for the Lifetime movie website.

   Rodriguez was courageous. Only a few people knew her secret: her mom, boyfriend, sister, and principal. She lost friends, received anger from family members, and was excluded from “teenage society.” People told her she would have to quit school and get on welfare. They said an “A” student with a baby would not make it through college.
   In the midst of typical high school behavior such as going to prom, getting good grades, and finding a good college, teens are engaging in unprotected sex at high rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-six percent of teens are engaging in sexual activity.

   An estimated 400,000 girls aging from 15-19 years old give birth each year. Because the number is staggering, it is easy to pass judgment on the future of teen moms. Stereotypes and stigmas have stained the image of these young girls as if they were Hester Prynne bearing a scarlet letter instead of a miracle of a child.

   “Several times in the beginning,” Rodriguez said, “especially with some of the negative comments I was getting and the rumors being started about me. It was disappointing, because I worked so hard my entire life with my education to be the best student I could possibly be, and then all of sudden people thought I wasn’t going to go to college or graduate … or do anything with my life.”
   The statistics about teen mothers are daunting. According to March of Dimes research, forty-five percent of teen moms finish high school comparative the seventy-five percent of their classmates. Fifty-nine percent of teen moms want to go to college and aspire to be what they’ve always dreamed. Three percent actually make it through college and earn a degree. It is not impossible.

   The realities are tough for most teenage moms, especially if they do not have support. Rodriguez stated in her Lifetime interview after her story was made into a movie called The Pregnancy Project, “my message is that life does not have to come to an end [because] you get pregnant young. Teen parents should find the strength for their children and push themselves further to succeed in life. It’s not the end of the road.”