If I had to sum up sex ed in schools, it might go a little something like this:
Don't have sex, kids, but if you're going to, be safe—and whatever you do, don't get pregnant. Also, don't do drugs.
We treat teen pregnancy like a bad disease we want to avoid and for seemingly justified reasons: Children of teen parents are more likely to grow up in poverty, do drugs, drop out of school and have behavioral problems.
But are we approaching teen pregnancy the right way in our schools?
Our neighbors in Europe aren't so sure. Faced with a falling birth rate, countries across the ocean are changing up how they approach sex ed in the classrooms by talking about (shocker!) the benefits of pregnancy, even at a young age. Getting creative about pushing for procreation with promotions such as baby-making vacations (hashtag #doitfordenmark) and has led to the development of more open sex ed courses for youths, including talking about—you guessed it—pregnancy.
"If abstinence is unrealistic and prevention is hurting pregnancy's reputation, then promoting a balanced, honest and thorough clarity is sex education's best option. Pregnancy is not bad, but it is a choice. Therefore, it must be addressed as such and shown to be a viable option for many people's lives, but neither necessity nor taboo," wrote one supporter.
Accepting young motherhood isn't always a bad thing, and pushing for more policies in education and the workplaces that would help even young parents succeed is necessary.
Gloria Malone, who became a mother at the age of 15, co-founded the #noteenshame campaign and recently spoke to New York Magazine on how damaging the shaming stereotypes of teenage pregnancy can be:
"My academic adviser stopped talking to me completely. I had teachers not give me assignments; I had teachers who would change the seating arrangements and purposely put me in a tiny desk when I was super pregnant. When I decided to move to a table that was right behind me, they were like, 'What do you think you're doing? You think you're an adult cause you're pregnant?' And I was like, 'No, I just think I can't fit in my fucking desk.'"
Stories like Malone's show us that an honest conversation about teenaged pregnancy would be more helpful than our current system of shame and denial. Although I wasn't a teen mom, getting pregnant with my first daughter as a college student at 21 opened my eyes to a lot of the harmful stereotypes that exist about there about young motherhood. No matter how educated, driven or motivated you are (and I was all three, finishing up by Bachelor's in Nursing with honors, working nights and running a student organization, all while planning a wedding), if you are young, unmarried and pregnant, people tend to treat you like you're an idiot who has ruined her life. And that's not helpful to anyone.
The truth is, our modern-day image of motherhood may not be as sustainable as we think. The path toward education, career, and then pregnancy doesn't always mesh with women's reproductive systems, and America may soon join the ranks of Italy, which has proclaimed itself a "dying country."
I'm not saying we need to rush out and encourage our teens to get pregnant, but I am saying accepting young motherhood isn't always a bad thing, and pushing for more policies in education and the workplaces that would help even young parents succeed is necessary if we want to better future generations.
Honestly, teenaged pregnancy is something that will never go away, and frankly, maybe it shouldn't. Not every woman's path will look the same, and in some situations, teen motherhood may not be the death sentence that we think it is. At the very least, if we're teaching sex ed in our school, students do deserve all the information about the consequences of sex, including teen pregnancy.