Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unwanted Teenage Pregnancies

Now before you roll your eyes and move to another post, this is not a discussion about the pros and cons of abortion so don’t worry. I’m not going to get into that discussion.

According to the U.S. Teenage Pregnancy Statistics: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity, each year, almost 750,000 teenage women aged 15–19 become pregnant. In 2003, women age 14 and under, there were 17,340 total pregnancies.

I believe that we as a society are too accepting of this situation. When I was growing up, if a girl got pregnant, other students whispered about it and it was a major scandal. Pregnant girls were not even allowed in regular schools which tended to discourage the desire to get pregnant. Now, being pregnant is nothing major for students. It is accepted by students, parents, schools, and most of society. Sure, lots of adults think it is an outrage but they still shrug their shoulders and forget about it.

Many of my students saw getting pregnant as a status symbol. They felt more grown up then their peers. The girls got a lot of attention from friends and teachers and the boys would brag about how many children they have fathered. Since many of my students were on welfare already, there was no need to discuss child support. In fact, I had one student’s parent tell me that one more child actually helped them get more money each month.

I had a fourteen year old girl in my class who was pregnant. She was too tired to do her homework each night, she needed to eat in my class (which is against the rules) because she was nauseous all of the time, she slept in my class because she was tired, and she was moody and disrespectful at times because of her hormones. Of course when she suffered the consequences for her actions, she became irate and told me how unfair I was. According to her, I was supposed to allow her to break all of the rules because she was pregnant. I told her that she made these choices and would have to suffer the consequences and that I would stand fast to the rules. At this time, she told me that she didn’t make any choices and that she was just pregnant. I explained that when she chose to have sex, getting pregnant was a consequence of her actions. Since she made that choice, she still had to follow my rules. Eventually she went to a Teen Parent program until she had her child. Then she returned to my class.

Now I’m not sure there is anything we can do about this whole situation but I think we need to bring it out more in discussions and topics. Since teaching about birth control, sex, and abstinence is usually frowned upon in schools, maybe we need to discuss pregnancies and the pitfalls for teenagers. We need to discuss the cost of having a child and raising a child. I’m not sure that anyone ever really sits the students down and talks to them about this.

I did a really fun and enlightening activity that really opened my students’ eyes. It took a couple of weeks to complete but it was well worth the time.

First, I had them decide if they were going to get married and how many children they were going to have.

Then we began to find out how much it would cost for them to have the lifestyle they desired. I had them go through the newspaper to find a house that they would like to live in. I had a realtor talk to my students and help them figure out what their monthly payments might be. They also had to find out how much homeowner’s insurance would cost for this house.

Using the newspaper, they also found a car they wanted to buy and drive. An insurance agent helped them figure out how much their insurance would cost for that car.

Then we wrote out a monthly budget for their desired lifestyle. We had to estimate some costs and even had to call the power company to find out the cost for their house. They added in food for the whole family, clothing for the whole family, gas for their car(s), and recreation for the whole family also.

Now I know this was a pretty rough budget but it still gave them an idea of what their expenses would be like if they lived they way they wanted to live. Many still didn’t have a problem with the monthly amount they needed because they couldn’t relate it to real life.

The next step was for them to find a career they would probably have and find out the yearly salary. They broke this down into monthly wages. They then learned about federal and state taxes as well as social security that are taken from their wages. This was a shock to them! That is when it hit that their check did not cover their desired lifestyle!

Then they were allowed to adjust the number of people in their family (namely the number of children), and recalculate food, clothing, and recreation amounts. When that really didn’t impact the budget enough, they looked for other houses and cars. Finally one girl said, “I’m going to be living in a cardboard box, unmarried, with no children!” That is all I can afford if I don’t finish school and get a good job!” Bingo! The light bulb was turned on!

Another activity we have done was to figure out the cost of having a child and raising it until it turns 18. We added in hospital costs, new baby costs, diapers, baby food, baby furniture and then clothing and food as the baby grew up. That was another enlightening activity.

I believe we need to do a better job of educating our students about pregnancies and the consequences later in raising these children. I don’t want to talk about the morality of getting pregnant or not but would rather show them the financial impact on their lives. I felt I was very successful with these activities in order to do this.

Do you do anything to enlighten the students about this situation? If so, please share.

Original image: 'pregnant silhouette' http://www.flickr.com/photos/18773952@N00/144905384 by: mahalie stackpole


gail said...

Brilliant idea and great post. Thanks for sharing. Now if they could just experience what it's like to be responsible for somebody else 24 hrs a day, think about how smart they want their child to be, what they need to do to help that happen, and what it would be like to have their teenager bring a baby home.

Nick James said...

I teach eighth grade and had two pregnancies in my grade alone last year, one under the age of fourteen. The second occurred because of the first, as the first got a lot of attention. There was actually a long-term substitute teacher in our school who wanted to throw a BABY SHOWER for the second student. I was in shock and completely livid.

I know at a lot of schools have a program in health class that requires students to carry an electronic baby around for at least a solid day, which helps them to realize how much work it actually is to take care of a baby. I really enjoy the economics lesson you outline.

Abbie Fox said...

Wow, what a fabulous idea. I teach elementary school, and you've made me wonder what messages and experiences we can give kids at that age to help them begin to think about these life choices.

It would be interesting to see if your middle school students could think about other financial decisions as well, such as saving for the future or carrying a credit card balance. It feels to me like many young people leave school with debt and kids, making dreams of home ownership, pursuing what you love to do, and (very far from the teenage mind) retirement so much less attainable, right from the start.

I am new to your blog and really enjoying it. Thank you!

J.S. said...

That sounds like such an awesome activity and I'm sure it would see lots of success anywhere. I'm surprised by your comment about students these days seeing pregnancy as a status symbol; when I was in high school a few years ago, all the pregnant girls were frowned upon as when you mentioned you were growing up. One girl threw up right outside of her classroom on the way in for class. It's disheartening to hear that "one more child" would help them get more money.

emapey said...

Pat, brilliant idea, now I understand why were you chosen 2006 Teacher of the Year for your school and a district top 10 finalist (out of 5000 teachers).

loonyhiker said...

@gail You are right. I didn't even mention about the future of the child other than material things. Thanks for mentioning them.

loonyhiker said...

@Nick I agree. Throwing a baby shower is giving the students the attention that they shouldn't get. If someone felt they needed things, it would be better to just give them things quietly rather than giving them this type of attention.

loonyhiker said...

@Abbie You are so right! We need to start teaching them at an early age on how to make appropriate decisions. Thanks for bringing this up.

loonyhiker said...

@J.S. I'm not sure where you are located but I taught at 3 different high schools in 2 different districts and the attitude was the same. The girls loved the attention of being pregnant and the other girls looked up to her as being worldly and experienced. It was sad to see.

loonyhiker said...

@emapey Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!

Big Al said...

I wonder why you didn't cut her some slack with the rules about eating and being tired. She was going to have the rest of her life to face the consequences but you only had a short time to make an influence on her. Why run her out of your class? It's too late for her to change her mind, she's already pregnant!

If she was in class and doing the best she could given her physical condition then I would have been happy for that.

loonyhiker said...

@Big Al I felt that she made this choice so she needed to follow the same rules as anyone else. I don't think because she is pregnant that it allows her to be exempt from our class rules. I don't feel like I ran her out of the class but helped her see that there were other alternatives like Teen Parent that might better suit her needs. She was only gone long enough to have her baby and returned 6 weeks after the baby was born. She actually completed my assignments at the Teen Parent program so there was a continuity in her education. I think this was the best situation for all of us, including her peers.

J.S. said...

Wow...I'm in Canada. Perhaps the mindset shifts over the border? Quite interesting.