Bristol Palin, the daughter of former 2008 GOP vice president candidate Sarah Palin, has broken up with her boyfriend Levi Johnston, according to news reports. Now that Bristol has joined the legion of other unwed teen mothers across the United States, the main question is: How will she handle raising a baby and finish Wasilla High School?
There is a very good chance her mother will help raise the baby, whose name is Tripp. Sarah is able to afford to do so, since Bristol’s parents are comfortable enough to raise another baby in addition to Sarah’s youngest child, Trig. The one problem with this situation is the following: that thousands of other pregnant teens will think their parents will help raise a baby too, regardless of the grandparents’ income. While Bristol’s last public statement comes to mind – that “Teen motherhood is not glamorous; I wish I had waited ten years to have a baby”(1) – it is highly unlikely that other teen girls in America will pay those words any heed. They will at the most think that Bristol was only speaking for herself. Yet pregnant teen girls have no idea what they are getting themselves into when they get pregnant. It is not due to lack of education that teens “do not know that sex causes children.” It appears to be quite the opposite – that teen girls want a baby so they can have someone love them and they can love back (the word dependency doesn’t enter their vocabulary until much later in life when they have to fill out federal income tax forms).
Our society hasn’t done too much in discouraging teens from engaging in teen sex and winding up as single parents. The reality of teen sex and the resulting babies is not, as Bristol Palin said, glamorous by any means. It is going to be very hard for Bristol accomplish her career goal of being a pediatric nurse. To relate a personal story, I knew a girl from college back east who was also a teen mother and while she finished a four year degree and was able to enter medical school, she eventually had to drop out of the medical program due to having to care for her child.. This seems a shame, as there are many smart women out there whose talents are much needed in the workplace, but when it came to making a choice to be a pregnant teen, those smarts seem to go out the window.
Teenage girls, and teenage boys, take a big risk in having sex. Since sex is not love itself – it is simply a biological function that can be controlled – many teens are confused when it comes to such relationships and many are not ready for a mature relationship. One third of teens who wind up marrying because they are pregnant wind up divorcing inside of five years.(2) Young teens exposed to the socialized fairy-tale of the perfect, romantic teen marriage with a baby have a hard time adjusting to the reality of raising a baby. Bristol Palin is proof of this fact. While both Bristol and Levi claimed they were setting a wedding date in the near future, it is obvious that will never manifest. That is not to dismiss Levi as being a typical teen father, the kind who gets a girl pregnant then leaves town so he cannot be located by the authorities or worse yet, the girl’s parents.
Pregnancy certainly is not something a teen girl should ever strive for. Bristol’s only mistake when she made this statement is that she offered no alternative – she never mentioned what teen girls should strive for. Unfortunately, teen girls still buy into the status quo. This means that they are not raised to question why women should give up everything and just settle down and have babies (although some women may claim that while it was good enough for their ancestors, it is good enough for them). Many are not raised to question common “follow the crowd” socialization, either. Maybe the best way to prevent teen pregnancies is to teach teenagers to think for themselves, to think before they follow the crowd, to think before they get the “I want one!” desires (let’s face it, every time the “I want one!” is heard with regard to a baby, it turns the kid into a fashion accessory. Kind of like buying a Hermes handbag.), and to think before indulging in reputed base instincts.
If teenaged girls are taught to think before making babies, it would prevent a lot of unwanted pregnancies and heartaches for the teen, as well as lost career plans and lost sleep at night.