Sisterhood of the Maternity Pants

Is it mere coincidence that Jamie Lynn Spears, the 17-year-old actor and sister of Britney, had her baby on Thursday, just one day after Time magazine reported a "pregnancy boom" at
Gloucester High School in Massachusetts? Some might say that
coincidence is God’s way of getting our attention. There certainly is a
common thread in these stories that we should think hard about and

Now, I am not among those who will quickly condemn Jamie Lynn or any
of the pregnant young women in Gloucester. I am not among those will
dismiss all of this as yet another product of a sinful culture, further
evidence of the decline of morality. Nevertheless, it is difficult for
this minister and sexologist not to wonder along with many, "What were they thinking?"

Time reports that as many as 17 young women in Gloucester
had formed a pact to get pregnant together and support each other when
they have babies. It seems that all were having sex with men in their
twenties who were not their boyfriends. Surely in today’s world,
somewhere along the line, these young women had to know that
unprotected sex was not a good idea, that having a child as a teenager
would change their lives forever. It’s easy to be glib and assume they
weren’t thinking about the consequences or their futures.

Or perhaps they were. If what we know from national research holds
true in Gloucester, these girls probably came from homes where there
was little discussion about sexuality. I’m guessing some of these girls
came from homes with too little supervision and a permissive
atmosphere, where they learned that teen sex wasn’t such a big deal.
Conversely, some may have come from homes that were too strict, where
they felt disconnected from their own family and sought to create their
own. No doubt they were thinking like early adolescents: concentrating
on what would be fun about new babies, baby showers, extra attention,
and someone who would love them unconditionally. The need for love may
be their most immediate and urgent need.

Perhaps no one ever told them that the possibilities for their
longer-term futures — including love, family, education and prosperity
— are much greater if only they would delay motherhood until their
twenties or later. Sadly, though, as one of their classmates said,
these young women chose pregnancy because "no one’s offered them a
better option." Perhaps their parents did not understand the importance of talking with their children about sexuality, offering their values, and helping them understand how to set sexual limits. 

How might we as a society respond to these stories?

I hope our first
response is one of compassion, not judgment. For the young women in
Gloucester, I hope the community will be there to help them and their
children. It is time for the school board in Gloucester to stop arguing
about contraceptive services at the school health clinics, and assure
that the school offers sexuality education that includes not only
abstinence and contraception, but help in making healthy sexual
decisions and preparing for the future.

For the rest of us, the message in these stories is that we must be
prepared — as parents, educators and clergy — to talk openly and
honestly about sexuality with our ‘tween and teen children. We must
explicitly share our values about when sexual intercourse is
appropriate (after high school, in a committed relationship, when
engaged, only after marriage, whatever your values may be).

The research on this is clear — when parents talk explicitly about
sexuality, share their values, set limits on dating behavior, and offer
unconditional love, teenagers respond. They either delay sexual
activity altogether, or they use contraception when they do become
sexually active. (I have written more about this in my books Beyond the Big Talk and What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know.)

My advice to parents is simply this: Start tonight’s dinner
conversation by asking your teens if they have heard about Ms. Spears
and the "pregnancy pact." Ask them what they think. Listen. Share your
values and hopes for them. Tell them you love them and are there for
them, and that their lives will be easier, better, if they wait to
become parents until they are adults.

It’s not a complicated discussion. We’ll be having it at my dinner
table tonight. I hope millions of American families will be doing the

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • invalid-0

    Neither race nor class changed the outcome or the behavior. I guess girls are looking for ways that society will recognize to become “women” (real? safe? valuable?) Parents and other reponsible adults need more time with young folks. You spend time with important stuff, but it is hard to find in this economy.

  • amanda-marcotte

    The story in Time is based on hearsay and the reporter clearly has an agenda—look at how she snits about providing birth control and day care.  I don’t believe it.  It’s telling that none of the girls in the supposed pact has stepped forward.  This one sounds like an urban legend.

  • invalid-0

    Judging by the media furor, the fact that these girls chose to get pregnant means the world is going to end soon. Oh, and it means teen girls are certifiably insane. Oh, and it means that feminism is to blame. And celebrities and movies and the depressed economy of Glouscester, MA, etc., etc., etc.

    One of the most thoughtful blogs I’ve seen on this is Courtney Macavinta’s post at RespectRx that focuses on how self-respect and respect from others (and their lack) play such a critical role in the decisions that teens make.

    Teen girls are confronted by lack of respect daily in the media. The media act like ocean waves eroding the already shaky self-respect of teen girls. In part, teens are susceptible to disrespecting themselves purely because of their developmentally normal confusion about who they are and where they belong. That’s understandable.

    What’s NOT acceptable is the way media undermines girls’ self-respect in countless ways.

    also check out

  • invalid-0

    I find it bizarre that no one is willing to hold accountable these irresponsible girls for the “pact,” to generate a child.
    I also find it totally dispicable that we keep on hearing the same feminine whine about “undermining a girls’ self respect. Generating a child is a mounumental and thoroughly miraculous achievement. You’d think by the way these feminists talk about this scenario these girls went out shopping and “spent a little too much.”
    Since the American Taxpayer will ultimately wind up paying for these dysfunctional girls to raise even more dysfunctional children perhaps we might be able to have a little more say in these situations. When will we initiate some consequences for these children. At what point do we say we had enough. No wonder we are seeing an ever more conservative surge in the United States. The level or highly charged and rampant sexuality is causing hundreds and thousands of individuals to become much more conservative and reactionary.
    It is none of my business what somebody does in the privacy of their own home, but we must and should hold the parents of these girls financially responsible, and we should hold the young women of these children financially responsible as well until their dying day.
    And lastly, for a Minister to say some of the things that she has in this blog above tells me that this Minister serves no one but herself.

  • invalid-0

    ….why aren’t we talking about the men who help impregnate these women? this article is SO critical of girls and women but refuses to mention that boys and men have an equal part in this issue, not to mention incredible and forceful sex drives, more so than most women and girls. Yet they are not held accountable at all. why don’t we write an article about how males are not being responsible with sex? no, we must always condemn the women. girls can’t just have a child on their own…
    our media is a good place to look for why there *may* be an increase in sexuality. but i’d like to argue that while there may be seemingly more teen prenancies, perhaps it’s not that, but rather they are just more publicized. our sociey is becoming increasingly more open about sexuality so it is not suprising that more “sexual” news is making headlines.