Why is it that this country seems to swing violently from one extreme to another when it comes to social problems?
There was a time when a teenage pregnancy was met with horror and mortified shame by shocked parents. They often took the misguided decision to banish the erring daughter from their home, or squirrel her away to Gozo or even another country to hide the pregnancy, and then force her to give the child up for adoption. The many stories we used to see on the Tista’ Tkun Int series, which saw people in in their 40s and 50s who had been adopted or who grew up in a children’s home, searching for their real mother is an indication of how prevalent that custom was.
The scandal of having an illegitimate child in the 60s and 70s outweighed any consideration for the mother’s feelings or that of the child, and “what will the neighbours say” was the predominant thought in the minds of most parents in a society where social censure and stigma were necessarily cruel.
As time passed, new generations of parents have taken a different, more lenient approach to the heart-stopping news, “Mum, Dad, I’m pregnant”. While it is obviously a good thing that an unexpected pregnancy no longer results in drastic, draconian measures, I’m beginning to think that the pendulum has now swung so sharply to the opposite end of the spectrum, that it’s verging on the absurd.
A recent item on TVM’s news bulletin had the Minister of Education visiting the new offices at the Ghozza unit, where teenage mothers are offered the chance to continue with their schooling. So far, so good. This is a worthy initiative, and anything which promotes and encourages further education can only be applauded.
However, I have been informed by a reliable source who saw the feature that girls, some as young as 13, were interviewed in a way to make it seem as if their plight is no big deal. Just a little blip in their lives, and everything will sort itself out because they are going to have a little bundle of joy.
What are we saying here? That the prospect of having 13-year-old mothers is just something we should shrug off? The message being conveyed in that feature was, in my opinion, completely irresponsible considering that the number of teenage pregnancies has multiplied alarmingly over the last few years. There is a huge difference between condemning young mothers and condoning them. Once we start taking the attitude of “so what?” we are only putting our stamp of approval on an issue which has major repercussions not only on these girls’ lives but the lives of other teenagers watching this kind of feature, who will think nothing of falling pregnant.
And, by the way, it is not just the young girl whose life will be turned upside down by a teenage pregnancy. More and more I see women much younger than me not only becoming grandmothers before their time, but also putting their own lives on hold (yet again) and willingly taking over the role of child carer while the teenage mother continues nonchalantly on with her social life. There does not seem to be any attempt to make the teenager accountable for her actions, and face up to her responsibilities as a mother. In psycho-babble speak, it’s called “enabling” and is simply another signal to young girls that, hey, having a baby is no biggie because Nanna (and Nannu) will come to the rescue.
The truth is, however, that bringing another human being into the world is a big deal. Even mature, grounded couples with a good income who have children will tell you what an exhausting, emotionally draining job it can be. Young sexually active girls under 18 who are playing with fire by not using contraception have absolutely no idea what they are getting into and when they do find out, it will be too late to turn back the clock. Because, yes, nine times out of ten, it is the girl who is literally left holding the baby while the “unknown father” looks for the next sexual conquest. What is worse is that, in some cases, I suspect there is a subconscious desire to fall pregnant because the girl wants someone to love, and to love her back.
I recently watched an American chat show in which a teenage girl expressed this exact wish. Her girlfriend, a teenage mother herself gave her the best advice I’ve ever heard: “You want someone to love? Get yourself a puppy.”
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