WORK-LIFE BALANCE / DEC. 12, 2013
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When They Told You Teen Pregnancy Affects Your Career...They Lied

When I was 14, they told us at school that starting a family as a teen could prevent you from going to university. It would ruin your entire career. But this is a myth. I put my hand up and said as much. But now, years later, attitudes haven't changed.

Our politicians 'combat teen pregnancy' and openly try to destroy this family form- an annihilation which would be called genocide if it was perpetrated against any other minority group. Imagine what the public's reaction would be if politicians were combatting post-teen pregnancy and reducing the numbers of nuclear families or same-sex families. And their justification for doing so? The widely-believed myth that teen pregnancy is bad for the parents, child and society.

However the idea that starting a family at a younger age somehow magically limits a woman’s choices is absurd, at least in Britain. If you’re under 16 it is the law that you have to go to school. So, even if a young parent wants to stay home with their child, they can’t. No university will ban you from attending because you are a parent. No bank will deny you a student ovrerdraft because you have a child. It’s the norm for mature students to be parents. If older students are often parents  then why are younger students assumed to be unable to cope? We don't worry about how young Hollywood stars manage to study and star in movies at the same time, or wring our hands over the many students who have part time jobs and relationships. Students are assumed to be able to juggle relationships and studying or work and studying (or, quite often, all three) but the Stone Age-old role of parenting is seen as irreconcilable with studying.As for finances, student loans companies take whether students have dependents into account when calculating student loans and grants. Universities have Childcare funds for student parents and university creches.

Enough of the theory – what about real life? There’s a woman with a PhD in my town who had her first child aged 17. I know someone who had a baby while in high school and last I heard of her she was in her third year of university. Another young woman had a child while at university and she got her degree. A top politician in the early 1990s had been a lone mother when she was aged 19.

An issue that doesn’t often get mentioned is what if a boy or girl actually plans to try for a baby? Respecting sovereign choice doesn’t just stop at not forcing an abortion on a teen. It also means respecting and valuing the decisions of teens and preteens to plan to start families. If a teen understands the descision, what gives us the right to stop them? 12 year olds can by law consent to medical treatment without parental knowledge and even if the parents are against it, including abortion and contraception, as long as they understand the decision.

The media promotes the myth that teen pregnancy is skyrocketing. Actually the reverse is true. In the US, teen pregnancy it is at its lowest rate since 1973. U.S. teen pregnancy rates decreased 38% between 1990 and 2004 (Ventura, Abma, Mosher, & Henshaw, 2008), and teen birth rates declined by 34% between 1991 and 2005. In 2005, the US teenage pregnancy rate reached its lowest point in 30 years. Mcintosh claims that 16-19 year olds constitute just 3 percent of lone mothers in the UK. Teenage pregnancy has fallen during the last few decades; data from the General Household Surveys shows that in 1980 67% of nonmarital births were to women aged under 25 but this had declined to 50% by 1995.

The whole concept of teen pregnancy is illogical and arbitrary, relying completely on the “teen” suffix; hence it only works in English. The phrase also excludes preteen pregnancy and lumps together the very different experiences of 13 year old and 19 year old mothers. Yet, 20 year olds are magically okay because “twenty” isn't called “tenteen”. There is no justification for stigmatising young mothers and fathers. We should encourage them to reach for the stars career-wise, not shame them for being 'irresponsible' and 'ruining their lives'. In fact, starting a family at a younger age means you won't need maternity leave. You won't need to wipe baby sick off your shirt before going into work, or fret about missing precious moments while your toddler is raised by a babysitter.

This lie that having a baby will ruin your life is just a subconcious knee-jerk reaction born of fear of teen sexuality. It is designeed to encourage girls to have abortions or decide to postpone pregnancy so they can appear pure young virgins. Because if they were married or older we would expect- and welcome- pregnancy. It’s their age and unmarried status that we discriminate against. As a society we feel uncomfortable seeing evidence of female sexuality especially when those women are young. We’d rather they were abstinent or at least didn’t plan on having babies or aborted the foetuses they were carrying. Having a family doesn't have to affect your career. But if girls believe it will ruin their lives, this myth could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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