Thursday, March 13, 2008

Teenage pregnancy - always a disaster?

Did you know that teenage birth rates in the UK are no higher than they were in the pre-Pill 1960s? Or that in those Sixties it was seen as normal for women to be married and mothers by the time they were 18?

Both of these stats pop up in a recent Times article covering an upcoming Channel 4 Cutting Edge about teen Mums. Because for all the horror stories about profligate younger Mums, this article, and the documentary, paints a much rosier picture.

Sure, teen pregnancy without the support of a caring partner is hard, much harder than for older and more mature working women. And I'm not saying that all teens step up to the challenge with mature courage and perfect parenting skills.

But I've felt for a while that we catastrophise teen pregnancies unecessarily. Often, having a baby is - in the words of the Channel 4-featured midwives - the 'making' of a girl. They stay with their partners, they grow into fulfilled and supportive parents. And actually, there is not only nothing biologically wrong with a woman giving birth at 14, 15 or 16. We are programmed to produce early; by 30 we are way past our maternity sell by date; the programme even suggests, with reason, that 30-somethings often make more selfish, less dedicated mothers than their younger counterparts.

So no, let's not argue with the Government's 'reduce teen pregnancy' programme. But equally, let's not demonise the teen Mums. On many levels, they do a super job of bearing and bringing up their kids - after which, they go back to education and spent the rest of their lives in productive, fulfilled careers.

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