TIME, Nets Blame High School Co-Mothering Pact on Poor Sex Ed, Pro-Life Movies

What do a sputtering local economy, Hollywood and a lack of comprehensive sex education have in common?

The media are blaming them for a spate of pregnancies at a Massachusetts high school. 

17 students became pregnant last year at Gloucester High.  According to TIME magazine, nearly half “confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.”   

TIME reporter Kathleen Kingsbury offered four different explanations why teenaged girls were willfully pursuing motherhood.  In her June 18 article, Kingsbury noted that some adults, “blamed hit movies like Juno and Knocked Up for glamorizing young unwed mothers.” She went on to discuss the strain on families as Gloucester's traditional fishing industry is outsourced, and she pointed out that “sex-ed classes end freshman year.”   The most profound explanation, however, came from a fellow Gloucester High student who gave birth three years ago.  Amanda Ireland said, “They're so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally.” 

This morning's network news shows addressed the story by focusing on Hollywood, sex education, and Gloucester's struggling economy, rather than parents and moral education.

A guest expert on this morning's CBS Early Show, child psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Guthrie, pointed a finger at Hollywood: “I really don't know. I think they might have glamorized the idea of pregnancy.”  CBS played a clip from the movie Juno, then Guthrie added: “Movies like Juno and Knocked Up appeared to take away that stigma. And teenage pop idols getting pregnant before matrimony appears to have given their celebrity a boost. Teen actress Jamie Lynn Spears gave birth to her baby just yesterday.”

NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America hit the sex ed angle especially hard.  ABC invited liberal sexuality expert Logan Levkoff to bemoan the lack of comprehensive sex ed, and take the ritualistic whack at abstinence education.

ROBIN ROBERTS, GMA co-host: Logan, what we're seeing in Gloucester, is this what -- is this a reflection of what's going on in the country? We do see that teen pregnancy is on the rise for the first time in 15 years.

LOGAN LEVKOFF, PhD, author, “Third Base Ain't What it Used to Be”: The first time in 15 years.  I think this is indicative of America doing a really bad job at communicating well and positively about sexuality. One in 14 teen girls in this country have at least one sexually transmitted infection and we have the highest rates of sexual infections of any Western developed nation.  Our policies are not helping our children. And the fact is we as parents need to get involved and we as schools need to advocate for healthy sexuality education. And that means talking about everything, not just abstinence because clearly even if that's what they're getting that's not what these kids are doing.

ROBERTS: What would you specifically tell the folks in Gloucester or suggest they do?

LEVKOFF:  I would suggest that we take on comprehensive sexuality education which also talks about abstinence and why it's important at times to be abstinent but also it's a program that continues. It doesn't end as freshmen. It continues. It's an ongoing dialogue and it starts much earlier so that when teens are ready to make decisions about sex they know how to make smart ones.

Roberts failed to press Levkoff on the fact that all the comprehensive sexuality education in the world would not have helped these girls avoid pregnancy if they were determined to have a child.  (For more on Levkoff's liberal background, see Scott Whitlock's blog over at Newsbusters.)

NBC's Today co-host Meredith Vieira pushed sex ed in a question to the chairman of the Gloucester School Committee:

But given what happened obviously in the case of these girls, they wanted to get pregnant, but at least half of the other girls that were pregnant did not choose that, it just happened accidentally.  Because maybe they were not exposed to birth control so have you changed your position about offering birth control within the school, the clinic at the school?

TIME's Kingsbury discussed the economic angle on Today:


Gloucester is a very very proud community.  It has a long tradition of fishing industry that has really gone away in recent years.  Jobs are not there anymore and the jobs that a lot of these young people thought they were going to have are disappearing.  And so none of them have a very strong life plan and so being a mother became something that they could do.  It gave them an identity.  They said I'm, you know, I can be someone, I can be a mother. And I think that they didn't really have an alternative. No one offered them a better life. 

Kingsbury comments point strongly to the need for parents to be present in their children's lives.  Parents need to “offer them a better life” by setting limits and openly discussing actions and consequences. 

CBS' Early Show co-host Julie Chen addressed parental involvement with psychologist Dr. Lisa Boesky in the last few seconds of her segment.  Boesky encouraged parents to set limits:

I think parents are sending a very clear message, 'Don't drink alcohol and don't do drugs' but I don't think we're sending a clear message of don't get pregnant in your teenage years.  And I don't think there's anything wrong with saying while you're in school, do not get pregnant. Parents shouldn't be letting their girls date boys that are older than them, they shouldn't be letting their boys date girls that are younger than them and parents have to stay involved.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.