This summer, after a study showed that teen pregnancy rates had risen for the first time in over a decade, MTV, in response to this, filmed a reality series called “16 and pregnant.” The show followed 6 young teenage girls through their pregnancies as well as all the hardships that went with it. Out of the 6 girls, 1 gave her child up for adoption, the others kept theirs. Now MTV is catching up with 4 of their lives in a new series called, “Teen Mom.” ABC Family also got into the act with their popular show, “Secrets of the American Teenager,” which follows fictional character Amy as she goes through pregnancy and life as a young mother.
Two summers ago, while away on a youth trip, a text buzzed my phone, “Did you know that R had a baby? She brought her to church today!” While R hadn’t been a very active student in the youth ministry at church, particularly in that last year, I would have never suspected her absence to be because of pregnancy. A few weeks later, I had a chance to see R, Mom, and baby at church for the first time. After talking with Mom, who assured me that R, “would be coming back to youth group soon,” and that R would “have a normal senior year,” I walked away scratching my head. I knew that for R, “normal” was completely different for her. Senior year wouldn’t be football games, senior prom and applying to colleges. “Normal” now consisted of diaper changes and bottle feedings.
After watching the first couple episodes of “16 and Pregnant” I was anxious to talk to some of my high school girls about it. I hoped that their responses to pre-marital sex, teen motherhood, and the teens’ various relationships would foster some very interesting discussion. During one particular episode, a mother and daughter fight over the daughter’s desire to purchase a car (despite the fact that she had no income and no savings or way to make payments). During another episode, the couple that is giving their child up for adoption (without the support of their parents) has a discussion with friends who say that they wouldn’t be able to give their baby up for adoption and would rather abort it. Two of the girls are in relationships with older boys who seem to take no interest in their girlfriends/fiancées once they are pregnant and strained relationships develop.
Armed with those episodes in my arsenal, I asked a couple of the girls in the group at Messiah what they thought about the show. I was shocked to hear their answers almost always were the opposite leanings. Of course the teen girl was entitled to have a car to drive. Why wouldn’t you keep your baby no matter the circumstances you were bringing them into? Why wouldn’t you stay with the father of your child if he showed no interest in making the relationship (or fatherhood) work?
From there we began talking about sexuality, abstinence, consequences, and the sixth commandment. I was further shocked to hear how some of the teen girls in the group at Messiah viewed sex. Not as a gift given to married couples to share, but for some, it was just another activity for couples to enjoy with each other. That abstinence was something that “just happened,” and not a lifestyle that required you to make intelligent choices. That the biggest fear for not having sex was a baby, not the emotional and spiritual ruin that could happen, not to mention the possibility of contracting an STD.
As youth workers, the call we have to mentor youth is one of the biggest roles on the job. The area of sexuality is no different. We are called to help youth see themselves as valued, loved, beautiful creations that God has made. We are called to help challenge them to live counter to culture. We are called to help them find their value in something beyond just sex or a relationship with the member of the opposite sex.
So, my question for you: how do you open up conversation about sex?