Saturday, October 1, 2011

on teenagers and pregnancy

James and I made a brief appearance at our local high school football game this past Friday. Now, I have to admit that I have absolutely no interest in football. I feel almost un-American saying this, but despite my best efforts, I cannot for the life of me focus on the game. It's nice to chat and people watch though.

I really enjoy people watching.

Sometimes I marvel at how each person has their own "look." Or I like to watch the band members dancing around to their music. Sometimes I judge.

Like when I see the clearly pregnant high school student walking past with her group of friends. Or I see the teenage couple that looks oh-so-young holding their newborn baby in the stands.

James has a co-worker whose child attends this high school. The rumor he spread to James was that teenage pregnancy is such a problem here that the school sponsors a daycare center. Now, I haven't been able to substantiate this claim, but cursory google searches (for whatever they are worth) have indicated that teen pregnancy in my town is about the highest in the state. Which is saying quite a bit, since Arizona has some of the highest teen birthrates in the country.

I have been perusing Red Families v. Blue Families, and one of the topics in the book is teen pregnancy. I was shocked to learn that about a quarter of U.S. girls in their teens will end up with an unplanned pregnancy. I cannot fathom this. In an age of technology, with instant access to information, it cannot possibly be lack of information that is leading to these high rates. The book does a good job of accounting for variations in trends between different regions of the country (red vs. blue), and attributing these differences to family values, social norms, and importance placed on education in these different regions. But I still don't feel satisfied. And I still cannot fathom how teen pregnancy rates can be so high. I don't understand the term "unplanned pregnancy," because for most of us, isn't that the inevitable result of unprotected sex? Sometimes I just don't understand the choices that people make.

I read a fascinating article a couple of years ago that discussed how the adolescent brain is neurologically immature compared to an adult's brain:
"In sum, then, impulse control, planning for the future, appreciating cause and effect, and decision making are important skills that rely on numerous interconnecting cognitive components that emerge as the brain develops during adolescence. Exercising these skills requires a variety of cognitive processes that are not fully mature in early adolescence. One of the important reasons that these processes are not fully mature is that the biology of the brain that underlies these processes is not fully mature."
So perhaps there is a brain development issue? Oh my goodness.

I think I'm probably doing too much judging in this post. But once I realized how prevalent this issue was, I wanted to understand why. I don't think statistics will help me.

I have an opinion that young adults of today's generation are less mature and have fewer responsibilities than those of generations past. I don't want to be all "the good old days," especially if I wasn't part of those "old days," but I feel that we probably grow up in a more privileged environment than in the past. I read a good blog article that addressed this issue. I think it's probably at the root of why college has become almost a necessity in our culture in order to get a good job: a high school graduate simply isn't at the level of maturity that he or she was at in the past. And it may contribute to why the average age of couples at marriage keeps increasing. It's taking longer and longer for us to "grow up."

But, assuming I am correct, and our teenagers are less mature than ever, I am all the more saddened that teenage pregnancy rates are on the rise. I clearly don't have a solution, especially since I don't even understand the phenomenon. But at least I am becoming more aware.


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