Category Archives: youth culture

Zero Shame Game

At the Washington Post, Patrick Welsh wrings his hands over the more supportive treatment pregnant teens and teen moms are receiving from some school districts. He is dismayed that teen moms are openly flaunting their motherhood.

The somber statistics about teen motherhood are the reason the day-care center, run by the local nonprofit Campagna Center, was opened in T.C. Williams two years ago. The idea is to keep the girls in school, let them get their diplomas and help them avoid the kind of fate described earlier. I’ve been a teacher for more than 30 years, and I want the best for my students and to help them succeed in every way possible. I know that these girls need support. But I can’t help thinking we’re going at this all wrong.

On the surface, Alexandria seems to be striving to stem teen pregnancy. Every high school student is required to take a “family life” course that teaches about birth control, sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy. The Adolescent Health Center, a clinic providing birth control, was built a few blocks from the school. The city-run Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy sponsors workshops for parents and teens. But none of this coalesces to hit the teens with the message that getting pregnant is a disaster. And within the school, apart from the family life class, the attitude is laissez-faire, as if teachers and administrators are afraid to address the issue for fear of offending the students who have children.

Once a girl gets pregnant, though, the school leaps in to do everything for her. But I wonder: Is it possible that all this assistance — with little or no comment about the kids’ actions — has the unintended effect of actually encouraging them to get pregnant? Are we making it easier for girls to make a bad choice and helping them avoid the truth about the consequences? 

Heavens! Helping people without censuring them? As one nurse observes, “There is zero shame.” Zero shame! Ooooh God, Nooooo! How can we expect people to act more like us responsible middle class types if we don’t instill them with self-loathing?

In fact, as you no doubt suspected, these people are bringing it on themselves. (Aren’t they always, those lazy, shiftless people?) Our anguished writer cites the same school nurse to dredge up the “pregnancy pact” myth spread last Summer by a high school principal in Massachusetts. Say, whatever happened to that story? Oh, that’s right — two weeks after fomented another reason for adults to fear their irrational teens, it was refuted. By the mayor. So whatcha bet that the school nurse in this article has no direct knowledge of such a pact among her students; that she overheard some “buzz” somewhere (conservative talk radio? news headlines next to her email? an opinionated colleague?); and that she parroted this bit of conventional wisdom for the benefit of our gullible writer?

And if you detect a slight trace of racial privilege mingled with the classist overtones, your nose will soon get out of joint. Welsh notes that overall teen pregnancies have dropped significantly:

The birth rate among teens, after falling 36 percent since 1990, went up 3 percent in 2006, the first increase in 15 years. And most of the rise is due to pregnancies among Hispanic girls.

Sensitive liberal guy that he is, Welsh hastens to note that white teens get pregnant, too, but it’s a class thing, and where he lives, class translates into ethnicity. Fair enough. Poverty and disadvantage hit people of color a lot harder than people of, um, non-color. But this is the point where Welsh starts dredging up the “pregnancy pact” myth and quoting high school students of, um, non-color whose disapproval is hard to conceal. These Hispanic teen moms “are living in a dream world” so says a girl in AP English. I was relieved (surprised, too) that Welsh got around to talking to at least one of the young women he spends so much time discussing with other people.

I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I’m torn about T.C’s teen moms and the Tiny Titans center. As upset as I get at the recklessness I see in some of the girls and their boyfriends, I can’t begrudge someone like Cynthia Quinteros the help she needs to raise her one-year-old son. “If it wasn’t for the day-care center, I would have to quit school to take care of Angel,” says the 16-year-old. “My mother is a single mom, and my brother is 11. My mom has to work.”

Cynthia’s days are grueling. She gets up at 6 a.m., feeds and dresses Angel and is at school by 7:50. She drops Angel off at the center, eats breakfast in the cafeteria and heads for class. Her mom picks her and the baby up at 3:15 p.m. At home, Cynthia eats, plays with Angel, starts homework and then leaves at 4:50 for her supermarket cashier’s job. She gets home at 10:10, does a little homework and goes to bed.

See? He’s a nice guy! He’s “torn”! He doesn’t “begrudge” Cynthia. He’ll even go into details about her “grueling” day — and, indeed, he chose the right word. But it doesn’t take him long to revert to ethnic stereotypes — and with Cynthia’s corroboration: a lot of her friends “actively tried to get pregnant” (but not Cynthia; she missed a Depo shot one day.) And according to a medical director, “most of these girls and their families see no problem with being unmarried and having a child at 16 or 17.”

Waiting for the “drain on public services” argument? Here it co-oo-omes!

Most of the mothers are in free and reduced school-lunch programs, and few have insurance. So when they get pregnant, a whole tax-supported industry kicks into action: The Health Department assigns a nurse to the girl, a group called Resource Mothers is notified to pick girls up at school or home and drive them to doctor’s appointments, and the Campagna Center plans day care for the child. The school dietitian plans nutritious meals for the mothers. The federally funded WIC program provides free formula, milk, cheese, peanut butter and the like to the teens and their babies. In Virginia, girls from 13 on up are eligible for free reproductive services — prenatal care, hospital visits and delivery.

According to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teen childbearing nationwide cost taxpayers $9.1 billion in 2004. Teens 17 and under — the ages of most of the girls at T.C. — account for $8.6 billion of that total, or an average of $4,080 per teen mother annually.

Welsh repeatedly singles out Latina teens and “the rising birth rate among Hispanics” as sources of trouble for befuddled and overworked social workers, educators and health officials. Get it? They are a burden. They’re a drain on tax dollars that should be going to bailing out the financial industry or failing to reconstruct countries we’ve bombed into chaos and desperation. Damn these poor people and their grubby demands!

Look, no matter what age a woman becomes a mom, our society is not prepared to support the needs of children. Period. If “shame” needs to be directed at anyone, it’s the opponents of universal health care, education and a living wage. It’s the unthinking voters who have consistently clamored for tax cuts and psuedo-patriotic war-mongering. We’re momentarily in a “season of Hope/Change/Transformation/Whatever” but all along there have been these undercurrents of resentment against Hispanics and of frustration with our broken social safety nets. An article like this only feeds the fire.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

RAND Study Totally Hot for Virginity Pledges

Based on a study of 1,461 adolescent virgins age 12 to 17 who shared similar characteristics of religiosity, parenting and friendship, the RAND Corporation finds that teens who made a virginity pledge were significantly less likely to have sex before marriage within a three year period after making the pledge. According to Scientific Blogging:

Forty-two percent of those who did not make virginity pledges but were otherwise similar to those who did started sexual intercourse within three years, while just 34 percent of those who made virginity pledges reported having sexual intercourse within the same period.

“Making a pledge to remain a virgin until married may provide extra motivation to adolescents who want to delay becoming sexually active,” [study author Steven] Martino said. “The act of pledging may create some social pressure or social support that helps them to follow through with their clearly stated public intention.”

Some researchers have speculated that abstaining from intercourse might increase participation in other sexual activities, like oral sex. But the RAND study found that those who pledged were no more likely to engage in non-intercourse behaviors than comparable youth who did not take a pledge.

The abstract of the study concludes, “Making a virginity pledge appears to be an effective means of delaying sexual intercourse initiation among those inclined to pledge without influencing other sexual behavior; pledging does not appear to affect sexual safety among pledgers who fail to remain abstinent.” As reported at Scientific Blogging, Martino puts forward some important caveats:

Martino said virginity pledges are unlikely to be a viable means to encouraging all adolescents to delay the initiation of sexual intercourse.

“These findings do not suggest that virginity pledges should be a substitute for comprehensive sexual education programs, or that they will work for all kinds of kids … But virginity pledges may be appropriate as one component of an overall sex education effort.”


“Virginity pledges must be made freely for them to work,” Martino said. “If young people are coerced or are unduly influenced by peer pressure, virginity pledges are not likely to have a positive effect.”

I’m glad Martino is so careful. But I have doubts that, say, the Bush Administration, culture war conservo-pundits, and parents obsessed with their children’s virginity (usually the daughter’s) will cut such fine distinctions. Four years ago, some of the BushAdmin’s favored abstinence-only programs were found to be promoting disinformation about HIV/AIDS and the causes of pregnancy. Today ABC News reports that J. K. Flores, the administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, funneled $500,000 toward a golfing youth program –passing over more deserving sex education programs for at-risk youth– because, according to his former assistant, he “favors programs that promote sexual abstinence.” Paul Peete at the Huffington Post adds that Flores “refused to consider any grant application that dealt with gay/lesbian teens — presumably trashing their applications.”

And lastly, I think the headline for this Bloomberg article says it all:

Teen Sex Didn’t Decline as Abstinence Spending Rose

Mind you, I’m not criticizing the RAND report. I just have doubts that something as creepy as a “virginity pledge” will be truly effective –or, for that matter, desirable– when filtered through the politics of the real world.

Things That Make Me See Red

No MySpace Please

Originally uploaded by Jeff Kreger

Found via Tame the Web.

This is what Teen Spaces are for, peoplez.

Pediatrician Mocks Fat People

In an open letter to directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, pediatrican Rahul K. Parikh implores them to take the lead in severing movie tie-ins with the fast food industry for the sake of reducing childhood obesity. Dr. Parikh makes a reasonable (and standard) argument that fast food advertising has more influence than parents in determining children’s food choices, thereby contributing to a rise in obesity rates among youth and putting them at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and shortened life spans. Movie tie-ins contribute to this problem by glamorizing greasy burgers loaded with cheese and bacon (mmmmm, bacon) through associations with popular characters like Shrek and, in a ridiculous example cited by Dr. Parikh, Indiana Jones via “the Indy Whopper, a mammoth, juicy burger with pepper jack cheese and jalapeño sauce (to give it “adventure,” the CMO pointed out).”

I am pretty skeptical regarding the Fear of Fatness taking over our political discourse, but Parikh’s argument wins with me. How can you argue that fast food has any nutritional benefits? Its ubiquity — particularly in the neighborhoods of poor and lower middle class families — makes fast food a reliable source of food that is awful for you (not to mention a means of employment that is soul-destroying, IMHO.)

Here is where Dr. Parikh goes wrong. Here he suggests to Spielberg and Lucas ways to counter the fast food propaganda:

If not [severing movie tie-ins], then perhaps a little truth in advertising, or in cinema, is in order. You should show us how your characters would look if they ate the food that you helped peddle. In that vein, you got Jabba the Hutt right. But Princess Leia in her skimpy steel bikini with cellulite? Indiana Jones having to hit the brakes during a car chase and find a glass of water so he can take his Lipitor? Now that I think about it, wouldn’t Viagra have been the best tie-in for the new movie?

He intends to inject a “little humor” into his plea, but the good doctor does so at the expense of the fat people he wants to help. Jabba the Hutt — really? Fat-shaming — and please note the sexism underlying the Princess Leia reference — should not be a part of his practice.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: , , , , , ,

In Contempt (5/15/08): OMIGOD!


Click the image to see the whole cartoon.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: , ,

Everybody Say, “Ick!”

paris hilton doll pic

From The Superficial. Which I am merely citing, not endorsing. The same goes for this other link, which has another repulsive doll to wretch at. Seriously, look at those anorexic legs! Those narrow-set heavily-painted cat eyes! But don’t gaze too close lest thou lotheth thy thoul.

All said, as nasty as the doll is, nothing tops Paris.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: , ,

Greasy Kid Stuff

Every Saturday morning on my way to work at the reference desk of PCC’s Rock Creek Library, I tune into the best rock music radio show I have heard since Doctor Demento in the early ’80s. Greasy Kid Stuff, hosted by DJs Belinda and Nova, is so great that They Might Be Giants wrote a song in their honor – which the DJs play religiously at 8:30am on the nose.

The music mix is pretty eclectic and strays beyond the “Alternative” genre constraints imposed on the parent radio station’s daily playlist. Hipster parents (who are obviously a target audience as much as the kids) will certainly groove to a playing of Ben Lee or pogo to The Ramones’ “Spider-Man”. Yet Belinda and Nova love to throw in anything that is kid-friendly and fun. James Kochalka’s “Monkey Vs. Robot” and Logan Whitehurst and the Junior Science Club’s “Happy Noodle Vs. Sad Noodle” frequently pop up; Captain Bogg and Salty are huge favorites.

And they love themes. Check out part of the playlist from this morning:

# Ghoti Hook – My Bike
Banana Man (Tooth & Nail, 1997)
# The Jellydots – Bicycle
Hey You Kids! (self-released, 2006)
# Frances England – Tricycle
Fascinating Creatures (self-released, 2006)
# Lunch Money – Tricycle
Silly Reflection (Squirrel Mechanic, 2004)

Yes, bikes and trikes! I would have included Sid Barrett’s “Bike Song” (it’s kid-friendly!), but that’s just me.

The DJs take requests and of course have birthday shout-outs to young listeners. Youth librarians can learn a lot from this show, especially the music tastes for young listeners.

[Cross-posted with Kids Music Source for Librarians]