The Tragedy Of Teenage Motherhood

November 01, 1994 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

They arrive in droves, or maybe it just seems like droves when four or five teenage mothers come to school at one time, clutching their bottles and diaper bags, eager to show off their adorable offspring. On this particular fall day, one of the girls catches sight of me from down the hall. She grins and waves and then begins striding in my direction. I pretend I don’t see her and duck into the men’s washroom. I take my time scrubbing my hands and combing what’s left of my hair. After about seven minutes, I figure it’s safe. I open the door. Drat! She’s standing there waiting for me, holding a squirmy 2-month-old dressed in a powder-blue jumpsuit.

“Mr. Dizney?’' she ventures. “I’m Debbie. Remember me?’'

Of course I do. She was in my class last semester.

“This is Zachary,’' she says, thrusting her tiny bundle into my arms.

I am instantly uncomfortable. Just what does Debbie expect me to do? Clasp her child to my bosom like some long-lost nephew and offer my congratulations? This girl is 16 and unmarried. Her boyfriend has moved on to another sexual hunting ground; in fact, if I recall correctly, he was barely around long enough to learn about the impending event.

And Debbie? She’s living at home, collecting a government check each month, hoping, when Zachary is older, that she’ll be able to earn her GED and get some job training.

“So, how are you getting along?’' I ask, desperate for something to say.

“OK,’' she answers. “My mom’s helping me.’'

Yeah, right. Your mom and every other taxpayer in the county.

Do I sound cynical? I hope not. I don’t dislike teenage girls or babies. I certainly don’t want to see any little tykes go hungry. But as a 55-year-old man who long ago decided not to become a father, I resent being sucked in decades later as a child-support surrogate.

When teenage girls bring their babies to school, we teachers find ourselves in a precarious position. We’re supposed to be supportive of young people, regardless of what they choose to do, even when we know it’s bad for them and for society. What could be worse than having a child at 15, 16, or 17, deciding to keep it, and then dumping the financial responsibility onto one’s fellow citizens? Isn’t that a little like sneaking into the movies without buying a ticket? Or filling the grocery cart but bypassing the checkout?

Oh, these young mothers (and their mothers, too) can marshal plenty of arguments to justify their dependence on public funds. “One mistake shouldn’t ruin a girl’s life,’' they say. “No baby should be penalized for the actions of its parents.’' This is true. But how supportive must I be? With birth control information a mere paperback book or health class away, I wonder whatever happened to common sense. Some girls’ self-esteem does take a nose dive around junior high. Some will do anything to hang on to a boy, to feel validated, however temporarily. Boys will tell them whatever they need to hear. None of this is new. This generation is no different from earlier ones. What has changed, however, is the terminology used to describe boys’ attitudes toward sex. Predatory. Hit-and-run. Male bragging these days is no longer about mere conquest; it’s about how many girls they can talk into having their children. How can any intelligent young woman hear this and not run for her life? How can she delude herself into thinking that she and her boyfriend will be different?

But what can teachers do? One thing we can do is call a halt to positive stroking. No more baby showers in home economics class. No more birth announcements on the math class bulletin board.

When teenage mothers show up at school with their infants, we can refuse to stand around making admiring sounds. We can refuse to say, “Oh, how cute.’' Above all, we can refuse to say, “Congratulations.’' We can rush off, explaining that we have excessive paperwork or that we are late for a meeting. The babies won’t care. They just want to be taken home and fed.

Having a child out of wedlock must be treated as the tragedy it is, not because of any perceived immorality but because of what it does to people’s lives and the way it saps even the uninvolved. The least a young mother can do to make up for her foolishness is not subject bystanders to the odious spectacle of a little girl showing off what she thinks is a new toy.

Still holding Zachary, I abruptly turn my head away and cover my mouth as I sneeze. I’m not yet over a nasty cold that is now in its third week. Everybody in the building seems to be carrying one virus or another. A school is a teeming colony of germs. Doctors agree, it is the last place anyone should bring a newborn baby.

But Debbie, of course, wouldn’t know that.

--Robert Dizney
The author recently retired from the Fairfield, Ohio, schools after teaching for 33 years. He is now a doctoral student at Miami University.

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1994 edition of Teacher as The Tragedy Of Teenage Motherhood


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Education Civil Rights Groups Sue Tennessee Over Law Against Transgender Student Athletes
The state law bars transgender athletes from playing public high school or middle school sports aligned with their gender identity.
3 min read
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Mark Humphrey/AP