This week, a teenage girl who less than a week ago lived in relative obscurity, has now become a celebrity. This is due of course to the announcement that this young woman is 5 months pregnant and her mother has accepted the nomination to run for Vice President of the United States. I am speaking, of course, of Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol.
While teen pregnancy has become something of given in our culture, teen pregnancy amongst politician’s daughters has not. The announcement of Bristol’s pregnancy on the same week of the Republican National Convention has of course resulted in a plethora of editorials from Newspapers across the country addressing the issue of teen pregnancy. Not surprisingly, many of the editorials chastise conservatives for their abstinence-only sex education programs, claiming that abstinence-only programs don’t work because teens will have sex anyway and, without contraception, they will end up pregnant. This argument fails on numerous grounds, but I will just point out the obvious. First, teens today are not ignorant about contraception. Secondly, saying that higher teen pregnancy rates are the final argument against abstinence-only sex education is an “ends justify the means” argument. We cannot fall into the practice of determining what we are going to teach our teenagers based on their actions. Yes, teens will be teens, but we must teach them what is best for them and the best thing for teens is for them to abstain from sex until marriage. Abstaining from sex until marriage is the healthiest course of action for teens in terms of avoiding pregnancy and disease, and in terms of establishing healthy families.
This post, however is not about abstinence-only sex education, its about teen marriage. Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol’s child, have decided to get married. I think this is wise and mature decision. We have all heard the statistics concerning children who grow up in single parent homes, such children are far more likely to get into drugs, commit crimes, end up in prison, and have problems in their marriages in the future.
In spite of these statistics concerning single parent homes, Sarah Kershaw, writing for the New York Times, wrote an article this week titled, Now, the Bad News on Teen Marriage. The title of Kershaw’s article is terribly misleading. While it is true that teen marriages are 2-3 times more likely to end in divorce than marriages of those who are 25 or older, it does not follow that teen marriage is a poor choice.
The article briefly cites arguments from sociologists who say that the large number of teen divorces is likely due to the divorce boom of the 1970′s that arose from the establishment of no-fault divorce. In addition, the article notes that Teens are more likely to get divorces because teens are increasingly delaying adulthood. We live in an age where teens are not expected to take on much responsibility and are discouraged from marriage under that same impetus. This is a phenomenon that has been noted by numerous sociologist and is telling about Bristol Palin’s situation.
What I see here are two teenagers who made the foolish and immoral decision to have sex before marriage but are now making the mature decision to have the baby and to raise him/her in a two-parent home. That is a mature decision that looks to the wellbeing of the child. Yet, instead of being commended for such mature decisions, they are being chastised and warned that their marriage will likely end in divorce. Numerous journalists have claimed that the Palin family is forcing the marriage against Levi and Bristol’s will. That may be, but we don’t know that. It could be that they are simply acting on their own convictions and doing what they believe to be the right thing to do. It could be that they were raised to think this way–to look beyond themselves and to take responsibility for their actions. But in reality we don’t know why they have made the decision they did, but we can commend them for seeking to do the right thing for their child.
I am not saying that more and more teens should get married. I am, however, saying that opposing teen marriage just because teen marriages are more likely to end in divorce is the same slippery-slope argument as opposing abstinence-only sex education. Both arguments are “ends justify the means” arguments. Both arguments fail to point teens to what is best for them and for their futures. Divorce is an evil thing and I certainly hope that Bristol and Levi’s marriage does not end that way. For the sake of their child, I hope they do get married and I hope that their child has two parents living in the same home!
I simply cannot say that teenage marriage is categorically foolish–especially in the instance of teen pregnancy. Such an argument would elevate the teen’s desire to find “true love” above the child’s need to grow up with his/her mother and father. I cannot make that argument. I think we have a hard time with teen marriage today because we don’t understand self-sacrificial love, our’s is a society that is too selfish when it comes to understanding love. Further we are postponing our teenagers from growing up and setting an awful example of healthy marriage for them–which is why so many teen’s marriages end in divorce.
Here’s to hoping and praying that one teen couple’s decision to marry stays the course and one child’s life is blessed with both a mother and a father!