High school for teen moms doesn’t encourage pregnancy

I’m not sure if the MTV special Baby High was indeed just a one-time special or a possible series, but it provided a lot of interesting commentary about teen pregnancy, education, and relationships. And it premiered just a few days before the season premiere of Teen Mom (July 20, aka Tuesday, be there).

Baby  High documented a handful of teenage girls who attend Westport T.A.P.P. in Louisville, Ky. Westport “is designed to prevent school dropout due to teen pregnancy and parenting,” offering daycare, buses equipped with car seats, and other services that make it easier for teens who are either pregnant or have children to complete their education and care for their children.

One of the things that irked me about this special is when one of the documented students said that some people in the community think Westport encourages pregnancy because it offers pregnant teens or teens with children a chance to finish their education. These people think Wesport is enabling because pregnancy should be punished, and one way to punish teen parents is to make them struggle as much as possible to see the error of their ways, as if roadblocking them at every turn is some kind of penance.

This is ridiculous for a number of reasons: (1) even with Westport, these teens do not have it easy — it’s not like finishing high school is the only thing these girls deal with as teenage mothers. They deal with trying to get child support from the fathers, who often drag out having to pay by demanding paternity tests and court proceedings; they deal with working to pay for their kids’ necessities, even in addition to parents who are supportive and provide shelter or a bit of financial means; they all want to go to college but have to figure out a way to finance it; they are often the main caregiver and sacrifice being a teenager so they can take care of their children — being able to finish school isn’t letting them “get away” with having premarital sex.

And (2), these same critics likely would complain if these girls needed to rely on government assistance because they couldn’t support their children alone with less than a high school education. So they want to punish them for being sinful and irresponsible by taking away their education — the one thing that can help them move forward, become self-sufficient, and not need to rely on the government — and then complain when they can’t make it on minimum wage jobs.

These teenagers don’t think, “Oh man, there’s totally a school for pregnant teens, I’m going to have unprotected sex just because I know I can get an education afterward at this special school.” Critics want to project the blame at places like this that provide opportunity to teenage mothers instead of, say, the state of sex education in the school system. Kentucky ranks eighth among state teen pregnancy rates, with legislation in the state’s House of Representatives that would make sex ed mandatory.

It’s not like building a jail leads people to commit a crime — the jail is built in response to some need in society, not as something that encourages a certain type of behavior. It reminds me of the White Stripes song “Cause and Effect,” to which Jack White sings “You just can’t take the effect and make it the cause,” which is what critics of programs that try to help people in less-than-stellar circumstances try to do, especially if they got themselves in those circumstances — you make one mistake, and you get no second chance to redeem yourself, no forgiveness! And I’m sure many of these critics are also religious, making their anti-forgiveness views even more contradictory.

Schools like Westport are actually really great — they aren’t the reason that teens get pregnant, but they are the reason that many teenage mothers can get a fulfilling education and go to college. Instead of promoting the idea that pregnancy is an excuse to fail, the school’s motto is that pregnancy is a reason to succeed, which is the message society needs to be sending instead of trying to stigmatize and eternally prevent teen parents from opportunity and success.

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