Reckless Love Affair
September 1, 2010
Attention, teenage girls. Are you bored? Not sure what to do with your life? Do you want your boyfriend to marry you so you can live happily ever after?
Better yet, do you want to be popular? Have magazine covers devoted to you? Even end up on a kickass reality show and make lots of money?
Then go ahead. Have sex with your boyfriend. And whatever you do, don’t use a condom. Think of the beautiful kids you crazy kids will have.
It’s hard not to take away that message when you look at the life of Bristol Palin, 19, the eldest daughter of failed vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Even for those of us bored silly by the Alaskan apple-cheeked teen mom, it’s hard to get away from her with the constant stream of magazine covers and “news” stories.
Two years ago, Bristol’s pregnancy was inauspiciously announced in the middle of the presidential campaign. It was hard not to feel sorry for the then-17-year-old then and even her oafish high school dropout boyfriend having their poor judgment dragged into the national spotlight.
One had to wonder why Bristol’s parents and John McCain’s campaign would want to subject her to that. When I read that some McCain staffers were pushing a fall wedding to boost the ticket’s chances, my stomach turned.
But my, my, has Ms. Palin recovered nicely. First there were Us Weekly and People magazine spreads on the whole Palin clan. Thanks to her mom’s $150,000 campaign shopping spree, Bristol had a very stylish maternity wardrobe. Bonus.
After giving birth to her son, Tripp, she made a boo-boo and let it slip that abstinence isn’t really practical for teens (she should know). But as soon as the pro-abstinence Candie’s Foundation came knocking, she changed her tune. Now she makes up to $14,000 per speech telling teens not to get it on. And she appeared on some ABC Family Channel sitcom playing herself.
Not bad for a Wasilla girl with no college degree.
And now, by golly, she’ll be on “Dancing with the Stars.” No one has bothered to say why Palin qualifies to be a “star” (but then again, they’ve also enlisted some orangish reality teevee meathead who actually goes by the moniker “The Situation”).
But it’s clear why Palin signed on. She told the E! channel that she “wants to have fun in California for awhile.”
Awesome. One can only hope that Sasha and Malia Obama are taking notes. I’m sure the world will embrace a couple of African-American gals having babies out of wedlock and would never dream of blaming their parents.
Good thing the media aren’t actually reporting the facts on teenage pregnancy as they breathlessly detail Bristol’s fun and flirty wardrobe. That would be a bummer.
So here’s the deal. Kids born to teen moms are nine times as likely to be poor. Half of all teen mothers end up on welfare — three-quarters if they’re not married. Teen childbearing costs taxpayers more than $7 billion each year.
That’s right. If your mom isn’t the former governor of Alaska with a multimillion-dollar book deal and a contract with Fox News, you might not be on easy street if you get knocked up during your sophomore year.
But wait, there’s more. Babies born to teen moms are 21 percent more likely to be underweight and less likely to receive sufficient health care. Child abuse rates are 50 percent higher for teen moms.
And their kids do worse in school — they are 50 percent more likely to have to repeat a grade. So their chance of escaping the life of poverty you’ve so generously provided them is slim.
As for your life, well, forget it. Only one-third of teen moms get their high school diploma. And only 1.5 percent have a college degree by 30.
I haven’t seen the statistics, but I’m guessing your chances of appearing on a sleazy network teevee show are worse than winning the lottery.
If the tabloids and celebrity mags want to ignore this grim reality, that’s not a surprise. But when Politico, The Washington Post and Newsweek glorify Bristol Palin in the name of capturing more almighty page views, that’s a sad commentary on the state of the media today.
Funny, with as much as Sarah Palin whines about the awful liberal media, she never seems to mind the fawning coverage of her daughter.
So how would the Michigan media report on a governor’s teenage daughter getting pregnant? Honestly, I can’t see this being something the Capitol press corps would salivate over. Maybe some newspapers would play coverage high online, but that’s about it.
Actually, I could see some papers using it as the backdrop for an issue story on teen pregnancies. About one-third of all births are out of wedlock now. In some Michigan communities, that statistic is far higher — something of which groups like local United Ways are very conscious.
Out of fairness, Bristol isn’t the first rich teen mom the national media have glorified. There was Jamie Lynn Spears, best known as Britney’s younger sister, who got pregnant at 16 and graced several magazine covers. Cantankerous conservative Bill O’Reilly blasted her for destroying America, but declared everyone needs to leave poor Bristol Palin alone.
That’s been the message from much of the right-wing media, which fervently defend their own. Decades ago, conservatives would shame teen moms, who would often stay with nuns or relatives through their pregnancies and selflessly give up their babies for adoption. Now that teen pregnancy is so prevalent, even in the Bible Belt, the rules have changed. Right-wingers choose to celebrate young girls who show off their baby bumps because they haven’t had abortions.
So Bristol Palin is a hero. And she looks to have lost most of the baby weight.
Looks like I just found a new role model for my 8-year-old.
Susan J. Demas is a 2006 Knight Foundation Fellow in nonprofits journalism and a political analyst for Michigan Information & Research Service.