In tribal nations and old world communities, the normal, expected age for childbirth was during teenage years. After all, this is when puberty naturally begins. This is the time when the body is the most youthful, fit and able to ‘spring back’ into shape, right? The difference between teen pregnancies in tribal people and teen pregnancies in first world nations is that we do not carry on the same tradition of the grandparents claiming responsibility for the grandchildren. In countries and tribes where the youth birth the babies, generally the older generation raises them. Today, in America, Europe and other nations facing ‘problems’ of teenage pregnancy, the ‘grown-ups’ have already raised children and though they often end up helping their youth anyway – it is not what everyone expects and respects. We must approach teenage pregnancy differently in today’s world. Could something like non-violent communication discourage teenage pregnancy? Or is there another shift that must occur?
It is a very different society we live in today, verses the rural communities of say Africa or the Australian outback. Our teenagers pack around iPhones and text message each other during class. Popular clothing and sporting activities take up the majority of teenage thoughts and time and school runs for them through the 18th year of their life, continuing on for many, immediately upon high school graduation.
We are not set up as a society that supports teens having babies. We look at it as a menace, an expenditure and a major disruption to their blossoming years. Responsibilities are different in today’s world. Many people do not invite children into their reality until their later 30’s in order to explore themselves, travel and have a career. The life of a teenager is certainly not conducive to having a baby in this day and age – but our kids are still fertile, sexual beings – so what do we do?
Sex education is one attempt made by schools and parents in order to discourage sexual promiscuity and hopefully reduce the risk of early pregnancy. In a way, society is in a battle against nature and its natural urges. Some places – such as in Malawi, Africa – we are paying teens to not have sex in order to cut back on teenage pregnancy. Apparently, that is working, as a large majority of teen pregnancies are due to poverty there.
I mention non-violent communication, not as an answer, but merely as a question. It seems the teenage years are filled with disruption, anger, depression, self-judgment, fears and anguish that are unnecessary – yet occur for nearly every teen regardless of sex. As parents, we are sometimes at a loss for how to speak with these kids and we use threatening or degrading language in order to try and ‘force’ them to obey us and abstain from behavior that is, to us, unruly. The truth is, they are just trying to be themselves, authentic and genuine. It is the system that disallows for such behavior to manifest smoothly.
Sexual curiosity and exploration is a natural part of life. As with adults, our teens could be encouraged to take personal responsibility for their actions and discoveries by being fully empowered in their sexuality and in who they really are capable of being. Some ‘youth’ are much older than their age. Some are ready for things at younger years that their older counterparts could not imagine for many more years to come. Some of them are more mature than 40 year olds I know.
When we treat teenagers, and anyone really, like the capable, responsible, vital, beautiful people they are, and have the capacity to be – they are far more likely to show up that way. If, instead, we speak to them as if they are automatically irresponsible, stupid or incapable of making ‘right’ choices, then they show up to confirm our worst nightmares – just like anyone. I am less and less inclined these days to label people by their age category. We all will forever have the ability to ‘show-up’ as the beings we are – at whatever age – when we are allowed to do so. By allowed, I mean – given the space in which to express our fullest capacity without condemnation or judgment.
Non-violent communication is based on the idea of hearing what the other person is really trying to say. It honors each person’s basic human needs and expresses with compassion in all circumstances. In essence, it is humane treatment of each other. One basic philosophy of NVC is that we are as interested in the other being getting their needs met as we are in our own. Often, we condemn teenage sexuality out of fear of the burden its actions may ‘inflict’ on the rest of the family, community and world. In many cases this is not true, as surely parents want the best life for their kids. Though nationally we tend to emphasize the financial burden teenage pregnancy is instead of focusing on the good of the teens.
One step for achieving a Non-violent communication interaction with another – and this goes for teens too – is to check first, within the self, making sure you are making requests and not demands of the other. How do we educate the teens about possible pregnancy? Do we make it clear what can happen? Do we make sure that the information provided is in the best interest of the teens and request, as an older generation, to have certain steps followed because we know they can? Somehow I doubt this is the approach of most sex-ed.
In the ‘older generation’ we still have the issue of untimely pregnancies, we just look at it differently. In an ‘older’ person – pregnancy becomes a time to ‘step up’ to responsibility and is not about preserving youth, financial burdens on the family or any of the other lines we give our teens. The truth is, all people could approach sex and pregnancy more responsibly and with more heart and kindness. Having babies is just too easy. In so many ways, this is a blessing and a curse.
The discussion on teenage pregnancy will continue as long as it continues to occur – and it may always. It will continue as long as numbers rise and fall and concerns abound surrounding our young people having babies. Can teen-age pregnancy be discouraged through non-violent communication? Maybe it’s a stretch, but it could be a start. Not just for teenagers, but for the reduction in all of what we collectively perceive as “problems.” It never hurts to speak more consciously to one another. And who knows, maybe if we started treating our teens more like we treat each other – they would act more like we do – hmm. I am not sure that is the answer we are looking for, are you? What are your thoughts? Maybe we should go back to letting their youthful bodies birth while we raise the kids? Maybe the teens know best – has anyone asked them?
Written by: Stasia Bliss