Thursday, July 03, 2008

Kids Raising Kids

One might have thought the news about the pregnant teens in Gloucester would have had its fifteen minutes in the spotlight and have faded from the headlines. But the story isn’t going away anytime soon.

A television crew from the BBC is hanging around town. They’re including Gloucester in an hour-long documentary they’re producing about teen pregnancy. People magazine reported the story this week, calling Gloucester High School “Maternity High.”

Summer residents arriving for the season want to rehash every article they’ve read. They ask, Was there a pact?

I’ve felt defensive about Gloucester’s reputation from the start. The numbers – some say it’s up to twenty pregnancies – are alarming. But I love this place. It’s beautiful, rich in history, and home to a lot of hardworking and talented people of all ages.

City officials have rolled up their sleeves. Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk is organizing five “Listening Post” community meetings. Leading experts including Dr. Karen Hacker, nationally respected for her work on pregnancy prevention, have joined a blue ribbon panel that will participate in the meetings. I hope teens show up to paint the picture: tell us of what’s going on in their lives, and what they need.

If City officials do this right, down the road the media will be able to report on how Gloucester has turned things around. Other communities will be able to learn from us. We’ll see how many reporters come back to write about the good news.

There are no quick fixes. Changing the environment that resulted in so many teen pregnancies will require a long term, far-reaching approach.

The entire community – parents, politicians, educators, and business leaders – have to invest time and money in programs and activities to make sure Gloucester’s youth value themselves and see the possibility of a productive future.

Students need comprehensive sexuality education. And it needs to be taught by adults invested in telling young people the truth and teaching them the skills they need to protect their sexual health.

And as I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying: More parents have to start listening to their kids and talking about sexual health, values, goals, and consequences. When parents can’t or won’t, other adults have to pick up the slack.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve kept recalling the words of Wendy, a 15-year-old girl I interviewed about teen pregnancy a few years ago. She said kids need a strong sense of self so they have the confidence to stick up for themselves and make smart choices. She’d learned this through a first sexual encounter that she regretted. After a lot of hard work Wendy gained self-confidence. She was thankful she hadn’t gotten pregnant. “It may sound a little rude,” she said, “but when you’re 14 and you’re pregnant, you’re just a kid raising another kid, and that’s the truth.”

Gloucester’s Director of Public Health Jack Vondras, who’s heading up the study of this issue for Mayor Kirk, is a strong leader. He understands what it will take to turn things around. But he and Mayor Kirk have their hands full. Everyone in Gloucester – described by People magazine as “this mostly Catholic working-class city,” will have to see the light and be willing to do the right thing. If we don’t, we’ll have more pregnant girls, more teen fathers, and more bad press. And we will have failed our kids.

Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health
Words Can Work: When Talking With Kids About Sexual Health
What Works: Sexuality Education

Related Issues and Answers columns
Parents as educators
Postponing sex
Talking with kids

Related columns for young people


Blogger Barbara said...

Hi Jeanne, Thanks for commenting on the Gloucester issue. I, like you, hope that the media begins to talk about the positive things the Gloucester Mayor and others are doing with the community meetings etc. As a former School Nurse I do understand the difficulties in bringing information to students in regard to the many issues that families feel is only their business to teach to their young people. I do not know what has been dealt with,as far as sex education,death and dying, HIV,suicide and the other "taboo" subjects in the Gloucester Schools as part of the Health Education Curriculum or even if Gloucester has such a curriculum. What I do know is that there needs to be open and honest discussion on all these issues with parents,students and educators. You have provided many tools in regard to many if not all these issues. I certainly do not know what is truth and what is fiction in the Gloucester situation. I do know that kids should not be raising kids in Gloucester or anywhere else. The answer is talk about it. By the way I met you at the introductory program to your suicide prevention program at the MA State House earlier this year. Thank you for your good work. Barbara Whitcomb

July 03, 2008 3:45 PM


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