And baby makes two

In Fast Times at Gloucester High, Michele Catalano blames parents for raising daughters who think having a baby at 16 is a good idea. As one grandmother says: At least her daughter, who dropped out of high school to have a baby, isn’t a prostitute or a junkie.

This is not an issue about sex. This is a much deeper issue, one about young girls with no direction, no guidance and no boundaries, whose role models are the pregnant classmates who came before them. As much as one wants to point to the economic factors of this struggling, isolated fishing community as reasons why this happened, that’s doing a disservice to every young daughter in that community. It’s a cop out. It’s shrugging your shoulder and saying “we can’t help it, it’s the way things are here.” There are millions of parents out there who are struggling financially and emotionally, whose daughters don’t decide to overcome the hopelessness of their lives by becoming a mommy at 16. It takes education. First and foremost, by the parents, with backup education by the schools. By giving in this disturbing trend and not being outraged by it, the parents of this community are only ensuring that this will no longer be a trend in Gloucester, but commonplace.

She asks: Where’s the scarlet letter when a society need it?

Some of the girls say they got pregnant by accident, then formed a pact with their pregnant friends. That doesn’t explain why the pregnancy rate quadrupled in one year.

About Joanne


  1. SuperSub says:

    “one of the girls used a 24 year old homeless man to get her pregnant”

    That being said, one mother expressed relief that her daughter wasn’t a prostitute or junkie… on the junkie account, I’d wager that they are in fact using something, and as for the prostitute part, this incident proves that they are. They used their bodies to get something they wanted, and I’d guess that most prostitutes would have higher standards than the one mentioned in the quote above.

    I largely agree with the commentary and how it suggests that the major failing is the lack of a stigma on teenage mothers, but disagree with the comments regarding increased need for sex ed and free protection (neither of which would have stopped these pregnancies). The girls saw teenage motherhood as being desirable, and that is where society must strike to fix the problem.

  2. While I don’t think being a teen parent is ever a great idea, the number of pregnant teens at Gloucester (an unconfirmed 17) is minuscule compared to other schools. My own alma mater easily has 5x the number. I wish the press and schools would spend more time on the prevention end of teen pregnancy instead of the reaction end.

    The “pact” never happened, according to the town mayor and one of the teen moms. More here:

  3. tsiroth says:

    People worry about whether home schooled children are “properly socialized.” This is what happens when children are “socialized” almost entirely by other children, who lack wisdom, experience, or judgment.

  4. “She asks: Where’s the scarlet letter when a society need it?”

    That’s the $100,000 question. There is no sense of shame in our society…because, of course, according to all the self-esteem gurus, a child should never feel bad about anything he or she does.

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    I too am appalled by all those fifteen and sixteen-year-old mothers.

    But what are the other choices we’re offering those girls? The ones that aren’t getting pregnant don’t have much of a future either.

  6. I found Catalano’s outrage about the childcare center to be amusing. My school has a very large child care center and many girls come to the school just for that center. We have a high teen pregnancy rate here in the San Joaquin Valley, especially among minority students, those who can least afford to be having children due to their high dropout rate. These are two factors that contribute to the poor economy.

  7. You can’t really have a culture that indulges every whim and casts a whole lot of judgement at the same time. You can’t really admonish the kids for getting pregnant then build a day care center for them at the same time and expect the message to stick. These kids can at least figure that out. They must be smarter than the school and the writer.

  8. “As one grandmother says: At least her daughter, who dropped out of high school to have a baby, isn’t a prostitute or a junkie.”

    That right there is the same as the criminal mentality: “I’m not that bad. Look at all those other people who are worse than me.” It’s a really sick justification for doing something wrong.

  9. Mrs. Davis says:

    It takes a village.

  10. SuperSub says:

    Not a village… a nation of taxpayers, and that isn’t necessarily enough.

  11. That “takes a village” idea can work both ways. We have many healthy villages, but surely a lot of disfunctional villages too. The idea of a “toxic village” bears careful thought. And we might also consider the “leave it to the village” syndrome as a disfunctional parental response to a pretty good village.

    What kind of a “village” is Gloucester? I don’t know, but if I were a parent there . . . . . .

  12. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    It takes a village? Hardly. It takes two parents, freewill, the word “no”, and two knees pinned together.

  13. And how much you want to bet, 17 or so years from now, the children of these children are out getting knocked up/knocking other people up?

    One of the problems with this kind of situation is that it’s very hard for the offspring to escape from the “vortex” they wind up in.

    These girls didn’t just screw up their lives; they screwed up the lives of their yet-to-be-born children.

  14. Andromeda says:

    I’m with Cardinal Fang here. Scarlet letters, punishment, aren’t going to work on people who don’t have the skills to envision a better future. I’m not going to go so far as “blame it on the economy”, although I think that factor was severely underrated by the woman you quote, but…

    I grew up in an economically depressed area, and most of my smartest classmates didn’t get any kind of decent grades, or go to good colleges (many more, of course, didn’t go to any colleges at all). They had vague ideas of wanting a better future elsewhere, but seldom had concrete plans, or any concept of how to connect what they were doing today to those futures. (I saw much the same phenomenon among the people depicted in Venkatesh’s Off the Books.) The things they were doing were maladaptive in the long term, but they didn’t have the tools for doing better things — and their choices may have even been adaptive in the short term.

    I think that, if people are going to make a serious dent in this sort of teen pregnancy, the kids are going to have to have better skills for envisioning meaningful futures and making connections. A lot of this is a matter of culture and role models; most people can’t make that sort of connection unless they can see other people in their environment doing so. It’s a lot more than just, eg, intellectually understanding that you ought to get good grades; you need to have internalized the *why* of it enough to make short-term sacrifices worthwhile. Shame-avoidance leverages people’s motivation (for some people), but motivation’s not enough without skills.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I’ll put it bluntly – they are dumb. They do not have the intelligence to match actions with consequences, nor do they have a capability to plan and anticipate the future. It is an isolated community, where the better able and more intelligent have gone elsewhere for better lives. This is why better educated people do not want to send their children to school with poor children- it’s not racism. To send our children to school with them creates no benefit for us – indeed, it is detrimental to our kids.

  16. SuperSub says:

    The population of teenagers (heck, even adults) that can appropriately envision their future and act in a manner to make it happen will always be small. Focusing on educating individuals to act for the future will always be a pipe dream.
    That being said, this is exactly why a “scarlet letter” is needed. It brings the negative consequences out of the future and into the now. Rather than a teenage girl being expected to contemplate her life over the next 50 years in the heat of passion, she can be expected to think about the shame, anger, and disapproval she will face over the next couple weeks.
    Basic psychology states that punishments must be immediate to effectively deter an indiviual from carrying out an act. As a highly social species, we are also gifted with the ability to learn from other’s mistakes. Public outrage (and private amongst the friends and families of the girls) is exactly what is needed to decrease the chances that this will happen again.
    Now, I’m not letting the boys off either. Once the fathers are identified, they should be imprisoned if the conditions for statutory rape are met and forced to pay child support if not. The same shame and outrage should be heaped upon them also.
    That being said, I doubt their community will do this, so this sad tragedy will continue to repeat itself.

  17. Richard Brandshaft says:

    My vague recollection (which hopefully someone will sharpen or correct) is that a black female economist once published a paper about how early pregnancies made economic sense for poor girls.

    The grandparents will be younger and thus better able to help with the children. All that middle class stuff about starting a career first doesn’t make sense to them; they believe (correctly in most cases) that they aren’t going to have a career in the sense we luckier ones think of it.

    The early pregnancies are then a result of poverty and lack of hope, not the cause.

    It would be better if poor girls could look forward to a better education and better pay. But meanwhile, we are castigating them for what may be making the best of a bad situation.

  18. Ragnarok says:

    SuperSub said:

    “Now, I’m not letting the boys off either. Once the fathers are identified, they should be imprisoned if the conditions for statutory rape are met and forced to pay child support if not.”

    How would you determine the aggressor? To assume that the girl was a victim would be sexist, agree? Maybe the girl was ambitious, needed some money, decided to get pregnant so she could get child support. Can you disprove this?

    The whole damned system is screwed up beyond repair. When the system makes it so easy for girls/women to claim to be be victims and rewards them for it, what the hell do you expect? Feministae single mothers, too stupid to understand the effort required to raise a child, but all too aware of the monetary benefits that accrue from having a child (and damn the child’s future!).

    If yoy think I’m exaggerating, just look at the bleatings of the feministae.

  19. Ragnarok says:

    “But meanwhile, we are castigating them for what may be making the best of a bad situation.”

    But not at my expense, s’il vous plait.

  20. SuperSub says:

    “How would you determine the aggressor?”
    Doesn’t matter… short of being tied down or drugged, these boys willingly participated in acts to bring their spawn into the world. They should bear some penalty to deter others from being “baby daddies.”

  21. Ragnarok says:

    It was a somewhat rhetorical question, SuperSub, meant to make the point that it’s unfair to let the girl walk free. Not so?

  22. That being said, this is exactly why a “scarlet letter” is needed.

    That horse has long since left the barn, my friend. You can’t have an anything goes permissive society and societal impositions at the same time. Any parent knows that kids are the fastest to figure out what they can get over with and once they figure it out the line shifts to that point. This is why I always laugh at people when they decide that the best way to help people is to give them more things that they haven’t earned – like that’s really going to help.

  23. Ragnarok–

    If you think a young mother is “walking free,” then you need more of a clue by four than anyone here can administer.

    Ever been a primary, stay-at-home, parent?

    It ain’t a cakewalk.

  24. Ragnarok says:

    I think you’re missing the point, joycem. The evidence so far indicates that these “girls” chose to get pregnant, didn’t think of their responsibilities, and some of them talked about how much money they’d get for a child.

    I’m a single father, and I raise two kids (boy and girl) mostly on my own. In addition I work a fairly demanding job. Any more questions?

    Typical feminist crap!

  25. SuperSub says:

    The last thing anyone ever considered me was a feminist… have you heard about the blonde girl who went to the post office 20 times in one day?

    Anyway, no court in the land is going to convict a mother simply for the act of having a baby. That being said, I’ve said that these girls should be treated with anger and shame and should not receive any form of financial help from the government.
    This isn’t far from what any underage father would receive. Only in the case of statutory rape did I suggest that the male should go to jail.
    The goal is to punish the involved individuals as much as the current laws will allow.

  26. Ragnarok says:

    Sorry, SuperSub, I didn’t mean you. I should have made it explicit.

    I get tired of all the whining and bleating that I hear from the feministae, much of it devoid of reason or pride. Many of them think that being female means that, in addition to being better than men, they’re also entitled to money they haven’t earned, privileges they don’t deserve, and exemption from the responsibilities of being a parent. I get tired of “I deserve “, (fill in the X with the flavour of the moment).

    What happened to duty, to sacrifice, to giving your children a better life?

  27. I went to high school/college in the days before the Pill and legal abortion and illegitimacy was very low. When an unmarried girl became pregnant, it was most often by a long-term boyfried/fiancee and resulted in marriage. Guys knew that getting a girl pregnant meant marriage and girls knew that fooling around with a married man meant a dead end, because this was prior to no-fault divorce and a respectable man would not leave his wife/children.

    The social stigma associated with both illegitimacy and divorce worked to create less of both. Also, self-control of all kinds was stressed as a positive virtue from entry into school – my public school and those of all of my friends, as well as religious schools. It is the culture that has changed behavior, because too many kinds of socially undesirable behavior are tolerated and government assistance has enabled it economically.

    One junior girl in my high school got pregnant by her long-term boyfried, got married and (had to) drop out of school. He stayed to finish his senior year and they lived with his or her parents, while working whatever entry-level job he could get, because the parents couldn’t support them and there were no government benifits. The rest of us looked at their situation and decided that we didn’t want to end up like that.

    By the way, I support the idea of the girl finishing school, but not in the regular high school and not including any school-sponsored extracurricular activities. Also, I would apply the ban on extracurriculars to the prospective father as well and maybe the ban on regular high school, depending on how much time he has to graduation.

  28. Addition – along with self-control, schools (and almost everyone else in authority, including parents) stressed responsibility. I don’t remember hearing much about rights and nothing about entitlement. School attendance was considered a privilege, which was supposed to be earned by decent, responsible behavior and hard work. Students could be- and were- suspended/expelled for bad behavior (which bore no resemblance to today’s definition of the term).

  29. “By the way, I support the idea of the girl finishing school, but not in the regular high school and not including any school-sponsored extracurricular activities. Also, I would apply the ban on extracurriculars to the prospective father as well….”

    What a novel idea. I really haven’t heard that before. However, how many mother actually do participate in extracurricular activities? It would be a law definitely aimed at the fathers.

  30. It is a shame these girls couldn’t have used this group spirit to motivate each other on something productive…say graduating or getting into a college together.

    Hall Monitor