She really was in a fix. She spoke only spanish. She was a teenager alone in this country with only her father, and he was pretty mad right now. She was having belly pain and didn’t understand why- until I broke it to them that she was pregnant. She would come to the Emergency Department two more times that month with the same complaint- pain and nausea. After making sure the pregnancy was okay, I would again explain that this is how pregnancy is.
Sigh. If only more teenagers would know this before they got pregnant. Most teenagers are told at least once about the chores of pregnancy- pain, nausea, weight gain, fatigue. And about that screaming, pooping baby after. But alas, teenagers aren’t good listeners. Like toddlers, they are better explorers, and have to try things out for themselves. But unlike toddlers, they get to try driving fast, drinking alcohol, staying out late, and sex.
Some parents abet their teenagers’ exploration. These parents explain this way- better that my kid tries these things at home where I can monitor their safety. They let their teen and friends drink at home, stay up, and even have a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. They believe this makes a friendly relationship with their teen, and they can be there when the teenager fails.
Unfortunately, with sex, the failing is pretty hard. When a teen drinks too much, they usually can sleep it off and weather the hang-over. When my daughter missed a turn and skidded off the road into a ditch, she was unhurt and it was only a bumper repair. But when a teenager gets pregnant, the aftermath isn’t so easy. Pregnancy is a life-changing event that can’t be shaken off like a hang-over. What about the birth control I got my daughter, or the condoms I bought my son? Well, just like driving a car safely takes experience, taking birth control pills daily or using barrier methods properly in the heat of the moment requires care to get right. And if they don’t get it right…
So you ask, what can we do? Teenagers want to try stuff- driving fast, drinking, sex. You tell us that teens are going to try these no matter what we say- they are better explorers than listeners, right? And like our permissive parents above, letting the teen do these things at home where we can watch is a bad idea, because we still won’t be there at the crucial moment to prevent pregnancy. So again, what to do?
The first thing is to explain the facts of life before your kids are teens, when they are still good listeners, before they become eye-rollers. Elementary school age is best to discuss safe driving, drinking, and sex. This is when you teach about the miseries of pregnancy, and how the fun-loving teen years are over when baby comes. How tiring it is to feed baby and listen to all that crying . Dirty, stinky diapers. Spitting up. And how if you have a baby with someone, that binds you as parents for the rest of your lives. That guy may be cute now, but do you want to be raising a child with him, stuck together forever in a loveless pseudo-marriage of co-parenting?
Second, for those parents who are permissive so they can monitor their teens drinking and partying, stop! Teens don’t need their parents to be friends; they have friends. Teens actually want a parent who is an authority figure. Teens know they may act out-of-control, and a parent who sets guidelines is a comfort. My wife and I are pretty careful about where we let our youngest daughter go, and once when we okayed her to go to a party, she did a double-take: “Wait, you’re actually letting me go? What if there’s drinking?” She seemed a little disappointed that we didn’t say no.
Teen pregnancy and parenting is a chore, thousands of times worse than having to do the dishes or make the bed. Warn your kids when they are young and instill those guidelines, so that they are well aware of the Big Accident waiting to happen, before it does.