Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Teen pregnancy - is it the media's fault?

The search for a scapegoat for the number of teen pregnancies seems endless. We blame too little sex education then too much. We blame celebrities then we come to our senses. We blame parents yet at the same time we seek to lock them out of decisions about how to raise children, most recently with the suggestion that parents will have no right to opt their young children out of sex education classes.

Now the latest suggestion is television. (BBC News: TV shows link to teen pregnancies) And I think this one may be closer to the mark. Television has long played a key role in shaping cultural attitudes and is it any surprise that it can have more influence than institutionalised attempts to instil values?

For the last few decades society has never really decided what its attitude to unmarried sex is. We forget that not only is marriage less common than it used to be but also people get married much older these days. A new series of attitudes have only partially developed, with the result that the interlock effect isn't present. Young people are given very different impressions about whether it's a good thing, a bad thing, something to admit to, something to hide and so forth. That's a very mixed set of messages and is it any wonder that teenagers don't always understand contraception or seek advice, or for that matter admit to having taken risks. Often the result is that the media pushes in one direction and there's little pushing in the other.

There is no one solution to the issue of teenage pregnancy and its foolish to suggest there is a single source to blame, or a single magic wand to wave to solve the problems. But it must be addressed from the starting point of the wider society we live in, not focus on individual elements. We also have to stop assuming that all problems in society ("citizenship" and "Britishness" are others) can be solved just by amending the school curriculum. That is just passing the buck.

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