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Spotlight teens in college, not teen mothers

Updated: April 19, 2011 5:21AM

Some parents like to brag that they keep their teenage daughters from getting pregnant by having them baby-sit younger siblings or neighbors.

I burst the bubble on that idea right away. I think all that baby bonding does just the opposite with too many girls, especially those from poorer communities, where introductions to other opportunities are scarce. Instead of deterring girls, I think it makes them feel motherhood is their only path.

So if you’ve considered using MTV’s “Teen Mom” in the same fashion, let me warn you: I’m going to rain on your parade.

For the uninitiated, “Teen Mom” is the wildly popular spinoff of the cable channel’s “16 and Pregnant.” (Yes this is the MTV of 2010; makes a person yearn for the days when all they did was play music videos, doesn’t it?)

I gotta admit, this is some riveting reality TV. When I see the young moms trying to grapple with school, a job and a screaming baby — while conflicts and disappointments surround them — I recognize what a challenge these teens face by becoming parents before their time.

But that’s how I, an adult, see “Teen Mom.” I wonder, though, do teens watching this show get that reality? Or, when a pregnant teen mom on the show is the guest of honor at a baby shower, do they think, “Oh, I’d be the center of attention”? Do they sigh wistfully when momentarily the baby daddies act romantic and say stuff like “I’ll be there for you,” and think, “That’s how it’ll be for me”?

Sally Lemke, a women’s health nurse practitioner at Rush University Medical Center, understands my concerns. She is involved in Rush’s partnership with the Simpson Academy for Young Women, which is a CPS high school for pregnant and parenting teens.

Lemke says that there is “some evidence” the MTV show does make some teens “less likely to want to get pregnant.”

And she says that watching the show — with a parent — provides great opportunities for good conversation, although she wonders how often that happens.

But when you’re talking about immature teens — and let’s face it, there are many — Lemke says they ignore the harsh realities portrayed in the show, rationalizing, “That will never happen to me.”

She said there’s a disconnect between what they think will happen and the statistics.

One of those statistics, according to Lemke, is the sobering fact that one in four girls who give birth under 18 will have a second baby in two years.

And when that happens, Lemke said, “It is very, very hard to continue school, go on to college and become a productive, independent adult.”

That’s why I wish that instead of putting the focus on teen moms, we would turn that spotlight on the teens who don’t end up pregnant and struggling. I think many teens fall into early parenthood because they don’t know how to get themselves from high school into college and then onto fulfilling and lucrative careers. While “Teen Mom” demonstrates the pitfalls of young parenthood, it’s even more important to expose kids to the other paths they could take in life.

So instead of using “Teen Mom” as pregnancy prevention for your teen, here’s a better strategy: Take your girls regularly to college campuses, where they can roam around and see what a fun scene that is, an experience they wouldn’t want to miss because they had a baby too soon.

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