Paul Sutton, a demographer for the National Center for Health Statistics, has just released new data on the number of teens getting pregnant and carrying their babies to term. With the release, Sutton commented,
To see 26 states with statistically significant increases is fairly remarkable. We're seeing increases in both the number of teens having births and also the rate at which they are having births. Both of them are going up.
USA Today, the newspaper from which we retrieved the report, was kind enough, on its web site, to provide links to related items for those interested in more information on the possible cause for this crisis. And indeed, it is a crisis, though the media does not see it that way.
In November of last year, USA Today reported on a study released by the prestigious Pediatrics medical journal. Pointing out that sex on television could be a leading cause for the escalating rates of adolescent sexual activity, the study reported,
By age 16, teens who watched a lot of sexually charged TV were more than twice as likely to be pregnant or father an out-of-wedlock baby as teens who watched very little: 12% vs. 5%. The gap holds steady through age 20. Researchers controlled for parents' race, income and education and teens' total TV time.
The same report provided a rather insightful comment by psychologist Dave Walsh, of the National Institute on Media and the Family, who suggests that parents are "delegating sex education to Hollywood. …If I'm a 15-year-old kid and no one's really talking to me about sex and I'm watching a lot of sex on TV, it's not a direct, conscious decision – but over time I start to think, 'That's what people do. That's the norm.' "
The real problem with Walsh’s observation is not that a parent is or is not talking to his or her children about sex, but rather that there is an enormous amount of unsupervised time being spent by kids who watch television because it has become the national babysitter. The parents are not only not discussing matters of life and death with their children; they are not even there to participate in a healthy discussion in the first place, or to monitor what is being viewed. The last time I checked, it was parents who had the responsibility of raising children, not the sex education teacher–TV set–video game combo that seems to prevail in much of the nation these days.
Clearly, there are many who argue, correctly, that if these teens had been exposed to a bit of abstinence education in their high school or middle school curriculum, they might have been spared the experience of a pregnancy, or even worse, a collaborative effort to hide the problem by having the baby killed by abortion. Concerned Parents Report has published one such document.
But, I daresay, abstinence education these days isn’t even a band-aid for the problem our children are facing. There is much, much more at risk than simply an untimely pregnancy.
Just a few days ago, Pedro Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, startled the world by stating, "We have sufficient evidence to state that a non-negligible cause of male infertility in the West is the environmental pollution caused by the pill. …We are faced with a clear anti-environmental effect which demands more explanation on the part of the manufacturers."
Pardon me for suggesting that the world was shocked by Castellvi’s statement. Actually, the news media dismissed this report out of hand and quoted other “experts” to debunk the comment. However, this is not the first such report on the pollution caused by millions of women ingesting artificial hormones and, whether or not the national news media reports it, the body of evidence is bound to increase.
Further, on the same day, Castellvi had another report published in the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, asserting the abortifacient and carcinogenic effects of hormonal contraception. He wrote, "The means of contraception violate at least five important rights: the right to life, the right to health, the right to education, all right to information (their spread is at the expense of information on natural resources) and the right to equality between the sexes (the burden of contraception falls mostly on women)."
This is potentially life-changing information about serious matters and widespread life-threatening circumstances. Yet among the many reports I have read on the subject of adolescents, contraception and pregnancy, I have never seen a warning in the mainstream media about the dangers of birth control. Thus, it too is accountable for the rising rates of adolescent pregnancy because the only facts reported are those that make contraception appealing.
How many teens are victims of Planned Parenthood’s birth control as the way to hide promiscuity bandwagon? Millions, I am sure, and these young people are the same young people who are getting how-to lessons on television and experiencing plenty of unsupervised time for experimentation. Now, of course, Planned Parenthood and its cronies in the "drive-by" media and elsewhere will say, “Well, they are going to do it anyway,” to which I would respond, "That may or may not be true, but we should not accept that argument. Our responsibility is to combat it by affirming a teen’s self-respect, and teaching each of them the true meaning of love and the lasting rewards of saving sex for marriage. Making assumptions that young people are no better than chimpanzees is how we got into this problem in the first place."
In the lyrics for the song “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places,” we read these words:
Hoping to find a friend and a lover,
I'll bless the day I discover
another heart, looking for love!
This song misses the very point that must be made, as do the messages far too many of our young people are getting from their parents, the television and so many other sources one can hardly count them.
Love is much more than finding another person to whom you can give your body; it is a gift that must be nurtured, must grow and should be the foundation for a marriage that will last a lifetime, not a brief fling. But if parents do not accept their proper role first, then we'll continue to read headlines on teen behavior such as today's, until the story itself is no longer newsworthy.
Pope John Paul II made the obligation of parents very clear in his May 2004 message "The Media and the Family: A Risk and a Richness":
Parents, as the primary and most important educators of their children, are also the first to teach them about the media. They are called to train their offspring in the “moderate, critical, watchful and prudent use of the media” in the home (Familiaris Consortio, 76). When parents do that consistently and well, family life is greatly enriched. Even very young children can be taught important lessons about the media: that they are produced by people anxious to communicate messages; that these are often messages to do something – to buy a product, to engage in dubious behaviour – that is not in the child’s best interests or in accord with moral truth; that children should not uncritically accept or imitate what they find in the media.
Parents also need to regulate the use of media in the home. This would include planning and scheduling media use, strictly limiting the time children devote to media, making entertainment a family experience, putting some media entirely off limits and periodically excluding all of them for the sake of other family activities. Above all, parents should give good example to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media. Often they will find it helpful to join with other families to study and discuss the problems and opportunities presented by the use of the media. Families should be outspoken in telling producers, advertisers, and public authorities what they like and dislike.
The parental love described by the Holy Father, which requires self-sacrifice and commitment, achieves much more than merely ensuring that children view only appropriate media. It lays the foundation for the kind of real love that children raised this way will one day seek for themselves.