You Gotta Give ‘Em Hope, Jr.

17 05 2012

A groundbreaking article was recently released on the subject of teen pregnancy and parenting, that is apparently based on new research. I say “apparently” because it’s possible that it was actually based on one of my rants from when I worked at Anonymous Youth Center, and began my relationship with pregnant and parenting teens. The article states that getting pregnant and raising a child is not typically the thing forcing young women into poverty. They start off in poverty, and this makes them more likely to become pregnant and choose to parent, for a variety of reasons.

And everyone who works with these young women kind of knew that already.

We talk about how likely it is for young parents and their children to live in poverty, for the parents to not finish school, and to work in menial jobs. For a lot of the girls I work with, that’s not all that different from the future they see for themselves without a child. It’s what their experience and examples dictate. While I certainly believe that young people who work really hard and have the right support, opportunities, and talents can create a different life for themselves, it’s incredibly difficult. We ask a lot of these kids, much more than we ask of those who were lucky enough not to be born poor.

If I had a child at seventeen, it would have meant giving up the scholarship I had to go away to college. It would have meant no study abroad. It would have meant not getting to do the things that most of my friends were doing. For my girls, this isn’t the case.

I recently went a high school to visit a sixteen year old girl I’ve been work with for the past year. She was in quite a mood, saying she was exhausted and nauseated. My mind started racing. “Weren’t you exhausted and nauseated two weeks ago?” “Yeah…”

Oh boy.

Now, I’m very positive when it comes to teen mothers. I have worked with many wonderful young moms. (Sorry I don’t write about teen dads, but I don’t have any!) I have written about it extensively, as I adore them and their kids, and feel that they can do a wonderful job, provided they have some chances and support.

This girl does not want to be a mother, teen or otherwise. She has said this for as long as I’ve known her. Her own family is, in her words, a disaster. She’s never felt taken care of, and has experienced all too frequently the many ways in which this world can suck. The kid wants an abortion.

But she’s being pressured, by her mother, by her boyfriend, not to take that route. So she’s considering what life would be like as a mother. I worked with her on taking some time to consider her options, as it’s still very early. What would be good about having a baby and raising it? What would be good about having an abortion? Can we even talk about adoption?

The answer to the third question is no, we can’t. Why you so crazy, SJ?

The answer to the second question is that she doesn’t want a child. No one is taking care of her, and she’s trying to focus on taking care of herself.

The answer to the first question was, essentially, meh? Why not? Things aren’t going to get any worse, and maybe it would motivate her to get up and get things done. The rationale that most people utilize to decide to chug a Five Hour Energy.

I was once informed that, because I expressed the hope that my teen girls would focus on developing interests and goals for furthering their education and careers, I did not have the necessary respect for motherhood, which is rooted in sexism. I would take a moment to address that point, but it’s so obviously stupid.

I have tons of respect for motherhood parenthood. I also have tons of respect for dismantling bombs. I don’t think either of these activities should be entered into lightly, or without preparation. At age 28, the idea of being responsible for another human (they don’t stay babies for long, do they?) blows my mind and terrifies me. Most parents I know say the same thing. It’s not that I don’t respect having children. It’s that I respect it too much.

Sometimes a pregnancy is a welcome surprise. I get that. I saw “Knocked Up” I also know actual humans who got pregnant before they intended to, but decided to go with it, because they realized it was what they wanted, and the time might never be exactly right, but they could do it. Mazel tov.

The idea of going into having a child the same way I go into having edamame for dinner four nights in a row is what’s troublesome to me. “Eh, why not? There are really no other options, and it doesn’t make a difference one way or the other.” It’s also sad. Profoundly sad. Because this girl honestly believes what she’s saying. That there’s no hope for her. Taking care of herself is not enough of a motivation. A child might be worthy of that, but she’s not.

This is a rare instance in which I wish I could take a child home.

I have faith that this girl could be a wonderful mother if that’s what she wanted, whenever she wanted it. I have faith that she could be amazing at whatever she chooses to do. Chef, rocket scientist, sanitation worker, poet, kickboxer, literally anything. She is smart, capable, and has proven over and over again that she is crafty as hell, and has essentially been responsible for herself and her siblings since adolescence. But she doesn’t have hope.

I have hope for her, and faith in her. Getting her to have that for herself is much more difficult. That is the hardest part, for me, about working with teen pregnancy.

Much harder than talking to a roomful of teenagers about condoms.

I Want My MTV (for social work purposes only)

11 08 2011

Say what you will about MTV, and the fact that they have apparently forgotten what music is. They do some quality documentary television. I could not make it through my time at the gym without True Life ,(you’re in a polyamorous gay relationship and still live with your parents? OK!) I Used to Be Fat, (greatest name for a TV show since Howdy Doody) and, of course, 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom.

You would think I get enough of this at work. But somehow, I don’t.

I like working with teen girls. That’s my passion. Which is cool, because I used to be afraid of teen girls. Especially when I was one. And teen pregnancy is a subject I’ve learned more about, since working with pregnant teens, as well as parenting teens and young moms.

I used to fall into the trap of only learning about teen parenthood through fiction. And not good fiction, like Juno. (Which, let’s face it, got slammed for not punishing a girl enough for having sex and getting pregnant.) Shitty scare stories on Ricki Lake, about 11 year olds desperate to get knocked up by anyone who will have them. I recently got into an argument with someone who quoted a pregnant 15 year old from a Lifetime movie at me. (Hint: don’t do that.)

When I actually started interacting with pregnant teenagers, I realized that there was a lot more to them. So when I’m not getting my fix at work, I get it through MTV.

A lot of people, mostly people who have hardly watched the shows, are shocked that I love them. It’s so exploitative! It glamorizes teen pregnancy! Those children should all be taken away!

To which I say: wrong, wrong, shut up.

I recognize that it’s not entirely realistic. I don’t know exactly how the pay scale works. I don’t know exactly what role the cameras and producers play in daily interactions. But I also know that this is a pretty good depiction of teen pregnancy and parenthood, that a lot of people never get.

What do we learn from all this?

  1. Go to court. You think you don’t need to. You think you’re special, that your love will last forever. If not that, you’ll at least be able to be civil. The non-custodial parent will at least always pay child support!

    Odds are, no. For one thing, teenagers are by nature impulsive. They get angry first and think later. (Trust me. I once saw a girl throw a futon out a window.) For another, the world of love is fraught with tension. (Translation: one of you will start doing someone else. The one not being done will get pissed. The more they say they’re not pissed, the more pissed they are.)You need someone else saying how much time the child spends with each parent, who pays what, where the kid gets dropped off and picked up. I know court is unpleasant. You have to wait in long lines, people are rude, and lord knows where the bathrooms are. But go now. Thank me later.

  2. Talk to your kids about sex. I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable. I have had to explain what oral sex is to rooms full of teenagers. And answer the inevitable “Why do people do that?!” from the one naïve girl in the back. I’ve also had kids who I used to babysit and change diapers for tell me they lost their virginity. But the talk needs to happen.

    Every kid on these shows, and who I meet through my work, say the same thing. “I wish someone had talked to me about birth control. I’m going to talk to my kids about it, starting now.” Not to say that teens who experience good sex education don’t become pregnant. But Schoolhouse Rock was correct–knowledge is power. They can’t make good decisions without this knowledge. And my girls who get dragged to the clinic for their Depo shot every three months? They might not be perfect. But they’re not pregnant.

  3. Date the good guy. Note that I didn’t say “nice guy”. Nice guys are the ones who talk about how nice they are, and how girls don’t like nice guys. Those guys are idiots, and they’re not all that nice. But then there’s the good guy.

    Tyler is a ridiculously sensitive and insightful teenager who divides his time between making sure his girlfriend feels special and loved, encouraging his family to get into counseling, and calling his mother regularly. Kyle dotes on a toddler that isn’t his, and is more involved in caring for the child than most biological fathers. Kayla’s boyfriend Mike stayed home with her, trying desperately to get her to eat despite her anorexia, and paid rent to that horrendous mother-creature of hers, just to be with his girlfriend and child.

    Ryan, the pretty boy with the motorcycle? Calls the mother of his child a liar and a bitch, often in front of said child, and lets his parents do the vast majority of child care. Looks fade, but shitty parenting lasts a lifetime. And don’t get me started on Chelsea’s boyfriend Adam. He’s alluring, because he’s a bad boy. I mean, really. Verbal abuse also lasts a lifetime. How Chelsea’s father has allowed Adam to live is beyond me.

  4. Consider adoption. So many young parents don’t even see it as an option. It’s not the only answer. Often, it’s not the best answer. Adoption is messy and complicated. But it’s also wonderful. I’ve seen it in my family, and I’ve seen it on the show, with Caitlynn and Tyler, and then again with Ashley.

    It’s also shown us the importance of support–one does not just walk away from adoption. Caitlynn had support from her ridiculously awesome (and adorable, come on) boyfriend, a great social worker, (what what) and an adoption support group. Ashley’s family thought they could handle it with just a lawyer, and Ashley suffered because of it.

  5. Consider abortion. Several girls have talked about this crossing their mind upon discovering that they were pregnant. Having an abortion does not make you a bad mother. Deciding you can’t be a parent right now, and possibly being a better parent later, is not a selfish decision.
  6. Your boyfriend is not going to grow up. What someone is giving you now, they will give you once the baby is born. Babies are not magic. Ryan was an idiot before Bentley was born. He seems like the type of guy who would think a burping contest it a sweet way to bond with your dad at a family function. When his child was born, what did he do? Got the baby a mini-motorcycle, tattooed his son’s name on his body, and refused to change a diaper or support the mother of his child.

    The same goes for immature women. Amber was selfish, in her own world, and at a loss for how to control her anger before the baby. Guess what she’s like now?That’s not to say there isn’t hope. I’m in the business of hope. But we’ve seen what counting on, “He’ll change once he sees the baby” leads to.

  7. Listen to your parents. This one comes with a qualifier–if your parents are on meth, and in and out of jail, and can barely take care of you, you might want to ignore this piece of advice. Caitlynn and Tyler did the right thing for themselves and their child by ignoring the guilt trip Caitlynn’s mother and Tyler’s father (who married one another…yeah) and putting their daughter up for adoption.

    But then there are the others. Jenelle’s mom might be a shrew, but she was right in telling Jenelle to stay home with her child, and think less about boys and partying. Jennifer’s parents knew Joshua was not good for their daughter. She saw how disrespectful Joshua was to her parents. But she didn’t really get it until Joshua kicked her out of his car on the side of the road, and took off with the passenger door open and their twins in the backseat.

    Sometimes, parents know what they’re talking about.

  8. Pregnant teenagers, and teen parents, are people. They’re kids. They have to grow up, but they’re young, and they will make mistakes. Like all parents. They need help and support. Shame and blame helps no one.
I’m not saying everyone will love it. I’m not saying that it’s flawless. But there is value to these shows, because, if people are willing to watch, they show us that there’s value to these kids.
So stop judging me for watching.

Social workers who need a social worker*

31 01 2011

 I recently came to a conclusion–I shouldn’t really talk about my job with the non social work public.

Yes, I realize that I am writing this on the internet. Decidedly public. But bear with me.

People enjoy the funny stories about wacky kids and sassy teenagers. They also like to hear the horror stories. About how rough the job is, how awful some people can be.

I don’t know, it’s like misery porn. Think of how many Oscars “Precious” was nominated for.

Quite often, I need to talk about it. I can’t take it all with me. There are times that I see things that make me angry, but more often they make me want to cry.

The other day, I stopped by to do a home visit with a family that I was having trouble seeing all month. When I rang the bell, I heard the dog yipping and the girls shrieking. I was so happy to have finally caught them at home.

Then things got a little strange.

I realized that it was the four year old asking me who was at the door. She knows me well enough at this point, and tried to open the door, yelling, “I can’t do the lock!”

I asked who was home with her. “My sister!”

Ah, the two year old. And to think, I had been worried.

She managed to get the door open. I confirmed that they were, in fact, home alone. The three of us stood together in the doorway, played dolls and sang ABCs (OK, that part was fun) and waited for the police.

Mom, the cops, and the babysitter with whom mom had left the kids all arrived at the same time.

So yes, mom made a mistake. She, clearly, did not choose the best person to leave her kids with. The babysitter, clearly, was an idiot.

But is this woman a bad mother? Does she deserve to lose her kids?

No. There’s no ambiguity, even. She’s a good mom. She was horrified that the girls were home alone, and her first priority was making sure that they were all right. She wasn’t upset that they police had been called. In fact, she was relieved that I had found her daughters.

I don’t even want to know what went down between her and that baby sitter after I left.

This was the end of my Friday. I dragged myself home, wanting to collapse into hot chocolate Glee marathon bed.

I also kind of wanted to talk about it. But I realized something pretty quickly.

Other people weren’t sad about it. They were pissed.

In a superficial, righteous kind of way.

“I wouldn’t leave my kids home alone until they were 12! What kind of an idiot does that?”
“What was so important that she was running out to do, huh? I can imagine…”
“I hope those kids get taken away.”

Yes, foster care will truly do them a world of good.

It made me think of all of the other comments I’ve gotten. I can categorize them at this point.

The person who doesn’t do anything, thanks to their heart of gold.
“Oh, I could never do what you do. It would just devastate me, I would care too much.”

The hard ass who makes the tough decisions you soft social workers can’t.
“I wouldn’t have let them leave until those kids were removed!”

The asshole willing to write off entire segments of society.
“Just admit, most of those people you work with shouldn’t even have kids.”

These people all have one thing in common: they’re not social workers. They don’t work with families. They don’t understand the nuances and complexities of family systems, of those relationships, of parenting. Even if they have families, and are parents. They don’t understand that, in most cases, removal wouldn’t fix things. That foster care is not a solution. It saves lives, it’s necessary, absolutely, but it also creates a whole new set of problems to be addressed.

I’ve never been a fan of, “You’re not (fill in the blank), you wouldn’t understand.” But I guess there are times that it applies. The fact of the matter is, the only people who knew what I was talking about were my fellow social workers.

The funny stories, the tragedies, and the inspiring victories have a universal appeal. But like I am always telling my clients–there are times that you just need a social worker.

*Dedicated with much love and gratitude to my tweeting social workers who got me through a mild breakdown 🙂

“Think positive!” OK, but it’s really not in my nature.

18 01 2011

Well. It certainly is a lovely day. The forecast called for a “wintry mix,” and it was fulfilled. That sounds like a charming mix of hot cocoa, marshmallows, and being in the warm bosom of one’s family. It’s actually a potentially deadly mix of sleet, ice, and the wrath of God.

I also came in to three phone calls about one woman–her mental health services were being terminated due to an insurance issue, her baby’s father was bringing her to court to pursue full custody, and an ACS case had been called in for neglect.

While returning calls to four different sources, consoling a hysterical and terrified young mother, and trying to coordinate a home visit accommodating five different schedules, my latest intake showed up. Unannounced. With her hyperactive, nonverbal three year old. I was interrupted from that meeting to sign a declaration, stating that I understand that our agency prohibits falsifying records.

So…does that mean that up until now, I was permitted to falsify records? I could have written up a note, detailing a counseling session conducted on the back of a flying dragon?

This is what we refer to as, “one of those days.”

On days like this, it might help to hear about a true rarity: a social work success story.

I’ve been working with one young mother for about a year now. I’ve written about her, and her girls (a two and a four year old) extensively in the past.

This is because they’re awesome.

The case came to us because the mother had a history of domestic violence with the girls’ fathers. She left, went into a shelter, and needed some support.

We worked together over the course of the year, and she exemplified everything I love about young mothers.

Whenever her kids start displaying new, troublesome behaviors, her first instinct is to ask me–is this normal? Do kids their age do this?

A mother who checks child development first, and formulates a plan to address the problem second, is a rare and wonderful breed.

She, and her children, have grown so much over the past year. Mom has never hit the kids. She has mastered the timeout technique. “The girls crack me up, but I know I can’t laugh in front of them, or they’ll think it’s funny.”

What’s that you say? You enjoy your children, but recognize that there must be a boundary between them and you?

Not to mention that the kids are hilarious. The two year old attempts, on a daily basis, to ride the family’s Pomeranian around the living room. The four year old, recently annoyed at the lack of attention she was getting by sulking under a blanket, attempted to sidle down the hallway, all the while “hiding” under said blanket.

In the past year, I’ve seen the oldest go from a shy toddler who refused to say my name (hey, SocialJerk can be hard to pronounce) to an exuberant  little kid, who is excited to show me her books when I visit.

The two year old has developed an amazing sense of humor, and a serious love of food. I get to see her pretend to munch on a hamburger, and hear her mother say, “This is what you use your imagination for? Eating?” And then mouth to me, “What a fatty.” (Come on, it’s all said in love.)

I’m going to have to close this family’s case soon, but for a brief period of time, I get to visit a wonderful, loving mom, a constantly hungry (though well fed) hilarious two year old, and a bright, energetic four year old.

The girls are in pre-school and day care, and their mother is returning to college. She has no more contact with her abusive former partners. And in this case, I actually believe it! Mom has put distance between herself and her own abusive mother. She’s looking forward to getting her degree, and putting it to use.

Once in a while there’s a good story. And it’s enough to get us through fifteen bad ones.

Here’s hoping.

First and foremost, I am a lady

3 01 2011

But I’m sure you all thought nothing less.

I was raised by two staunch feminists. No, really, men can be feminists. They should be, in fact. Feminism is defined as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.”

Oh heavens, I am scandalized!

I have both my mother and father’s last names. I grew up reading Ms. Magazine. I got in an argument in kindergarten, advocating the view that there was no such thing as boy and girl colors. I also firmly believed that my Peanut league coach would not let me play first base because I was the only girl on the team. (I stand by that. I was a remarkable five year old athlete, meaning my shoes were generally tied and I knew right from left.)

But I digress. What does this have to do with social work?

Social workers work with the marginalized. We work with people in need. By and large, these people are women. And their children.

I currently have a caseload of twelve families. Of those families, ten are headed by single mothers, one by a single grandmother. Only one has an involved father. (And I use the word “involved” loosely.)

Women, very often young women, are the one raising these families. They’re the ones working, paying for day care, taking care of those damn kids day after day. When they can’t do it, it’s most often the grandmothers that step in.

Where are the dads? Sometimes they’ve just taken off. Other times, they’re around. They pop in now and then, drop off some cool sneakers, and go on their way. A lot of the mothers are surprisingly understanding. “Well, he’s not working right now, so how can he pay child support?”

Right. Give him time to find himself while you sacrifice your education and dreams to work a menial job to care for your child. I mean, it’s not like he had anything to do with the pregnancy. It’s only fair.

At what point do you explain that you will have to smack him for hours, until he comes over with Pampers and actually puts them on the kid?

I started this off talking about feminism for a reason. These women, as strong as they are, believe that this is their lot in life. They don’t see options. They don’t think that the men they had children with owe them, and those children. They might ask the guy to bring material things to the child, or to spend some time with the kid. (That’s fun, daddy time. Go to the park, play video games…not the serious mommy stuff of potty training and time outs.)

But they rarely think that the father has a role as a parent. And the men seem to think this as well. Most of them didn’t have a model father to show them the way. By the time they have their own kids, though, they need to figure it out.

These women already expect a lot from themselves. They need to expect more from men. The men need to think about what a father is, and what kind of a father they expect themselves to be.

Oh right, that’s where we come in. We need to come at these issues from a framework that will benefit our clients, and help them to make those difficult changes.

Not pro-choice? Fine. (Well, not really, but that’s not the point.) We need to be for our clients. The social work mantra value of self-determination kind of insists on it. I’ve had two clients in the past year come to me, telling me about their plans to seek abortion. One was a 15 year old child, one was a 24 year old raising a disabled son.

I asked if they needed anything. They both told me they were fine, knew where to go and what to do. They both knew I was there if they needed anything.

And that was my role. It was not my role to look shocked, act like this was a tragedy, or try to talk to them about options they weren’t interested in.

Most social workers, I’m sure, wouldn’t intentionally do this. But some do, and don’t even realize it. Because they start thinking as if they were the ones with the decision to make, when in fact they are not.

Again, I bring up feminism. Because this is an issue of trusting women. Of having enough respect for them to allow them to make their own decisions, and to understand that they are capable of this.

Whatever you would consider yourself to be (and I really hope that you would consider yourself to be a feminist) it’s something we owe to our clients.

Teen Moms and the Social Workers Who Love Them

27 09 2010

One thing that people love to ask me about my work is the ages of the mothers. I’ll mention seeing a six year old and his mom, and someone will inevitably pipe in with, “Oh, how old is mom, 19?” This is considered the height of comedic skill by many. It works both as a hilarious joke, and as a social commentary.

Except, it’s not really funny, and it’s not really true. I work with a lot of teen mothers, sure. I also work with women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who started out as teen mothers. I work with a couple of teen girls who almost became mothers before opting for abortion. One of my clients is a pregnant 42 year old. Honestly, I’m much more concerned about her parenting skills and ability to cope with this stress than I am concerned about my pregnant 21 year old, who already has a pre-schooler.

Most people are never really ready for parenthood. (Honestly, coming home from the hospital one day with a person for whom you are responsible, for life? Terrifying.) It’s particularly tough for teens. The responsibility almost exclusively falls on the girls. The guys put on a good show, coming to an ultrasound appointment, bragging to friends about his powers of procreation, and insisting that any boy born be a “Junior.” But when the time comes to buy Pampers, do late night feedings, or stay in on a Saturday because that’s what parents do sometimes, the young man is not quite as enthusiastic as he once was.

That being said, teen parents can thrive, with some help and support. You might not think this, considering teen pregnancy has become one of those Big Scare topics. You know, when they want you to think American is really going down the drain. “Our babies are having babies!” Poor Forever 21 just wanted to offer pregnant young women some stylish, affordable maternity gear that will fall apart in three washings, and just think of the controversy that caused. (For some reason, the solution to this teen pregnancy epidemic is to make Lifetime movies about imaginary pregnancy pacts and ensure that no one gives out condoms. Doesn’t make much sense to me, but what do I know? I’m just a social worker.)

Teen and young mothers are some of my favorite people to work with, often for the very reasons that people say they’re so terrible.

  • “They’re having a baby just so they’ll have something to love, that will love them!”
    OK, let’s pretend for a moment that 30 something women aren’t doing this as well. Is it the best reason to have a child? No. And it should be discouraged. Teenagers need to understand that raising a child isn’t all cuddles and rainbows. But my teen mothers are some of the most loving parents I know. Their kids are usually happy. A 20 year old I work with, who has a two and a four year old, can’t get through a session without one of her children running by saying, “Mommy, I like you!” or climbing into her lap. Unlike a lot of parents I know, she doesn’t get annoyed with this. She enjoys her children, more than most.
  • “They’re too young, and don’t understand anything about child development.”
    This is the usual professional line. It does present a concern. People who don’t know that a two year old can’t sit quietly and wait for mommy to get off the phone might think that their crying, antsy child is just being a brat. They might think that you can discipline an 18 month old. Again, this can also be a problem with older parents, but let’s talk about it. My teen mothers (for the record, I don’t work with any fathers) are more willing to learn than any other group I work with. They will sign up for any parenting class I suggest. They will sit and go over developmental charts with me, and they genuinely delight in identifying what milestones their children have reached.
    Sometimes, this lack of knowledge works in their favor. One of the smartest people kids I know is the child of that pregnant 21 year old I mentioned. She’s four years old, and just started school. Her teachers cannot believe that she was never in Head Start. This is because she talks like she’s about 25. One of the highlights of my career was when I walked into the waiting room, and she looked up at me and said, “Oh, you look cute today.” When it’s just mom and baby, there’s not a lot of room for baby talk. Her vocabulary is stunning. Her mother was telling me about a vacant apartment they had gone to see. The child looked up from writing her letters (practicing ‘A’s, or catching up on her correspondences, I’m not sure) to say, “Vacant means empty.” Her mom didn’t let the idea that her daughter is too young to have an extensive vocabulary, or to learn to read, hold her back. The child was able to thrive and rise to the occasion.
    Get ready, because we’ll all be working for this kid one day.
  • “Those mothers will never finish school.”
    This one is my biggest concern. Like I mentioned elsewhere, these young women need a lot of support. Not everyone can count on being an MTV reality star. It’s a lot easier to pass judgment on these girls than it is to give them the help they need. It’s especially difficult to pay for it. Yes, they need help with child care, finances, and probably some alternative school options, so that they can graduate.

With these options, and preferably some familial support, teen mothers can be successful. Teen pregnancy is not desirable, I’ll certainly tell you that. But it’s not the end of the world. It can’t be, for these women, and for their children. These young women know it better than anyone. I have never met mothers more concerned with the example they set for their children. They think about it all the time–they need to finish school, so their kids will know this is important. They need to get a job, so the kids don’t think it’s normal to live on public assistance. They need to remain single, so their daughters don’t think that it’s OK to stay with a man who treats you poorly, and their sons don’t think it’s OK to treat women this way.

This doesn’t really go with a lot of people’s ideas of “teen motherhood.” But it is, often, the reality.

Let’s count–one! One cranky social worker!

20 09 2010

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television time for children under two.  They prattle on about the need for actual human interaction, developing social skills, and attention spans. (I mean, I watched tons of TV as a kid, and it didn’t affect me…ooh look, a bird!)

This message does not seem to have reached the Bronx. Or if it has, it’s gone excusively to families that I don’t work with.

Do these “pediatricians” even have kids? They’re annoying. They ask questions constantly, and they always want to run around and play. The TV is hypnotic. Turn it on, and they’re zoned out enough to allow for some sweet, sweet Mommy time.

Seriously, it’s hard for a young, single parent to avoid falling into the TV-as-babysitter trap. For one thing, when your first child is a surprise when you’re 16 years old, you don’t usually spend a lot of time googling studies about child development. Your social worker comes in a few years later to do that with you. Also, you’re on your own. You need that break to maintain your own sanity, and sometimes there’s no person available to provide a few hours of structured, robust, educational play.

But we could all do with being a bit more selective.

I have seen my fair share of “Jerry Springer” episodes playing in the background of home visits with a young mother and her four year old. The most distressing part is usually when I am the only one to flinch when Jerry asks, “Were you surprised to find out that your husband had been leading a secret double life as a fluffer?”

Not that I don’t see the appeal. There are times when I stretch out a visit for a bit longer, just to hear Maury tell some deadbeat, “You ARE the father!” And to watch that poor, rejected woman do her classy victory dance.

Then there are parents who limit ther kids’ intake to children’s television. Surely this is better, right?

I will never forget my first visit with the mother of a two and four year old. Their 128 inch flat screen was blaring, when all of a sudden the two year old dove behind me, under the couch cushions, yelling, “No Gabba! No Gabba!”

Apparently, her older sister’s greatest love was this child’s greatest fear. Yo Gabba Gabba.

I can’t imagine where the fear came from. Nope, this looks delightful.

Children’s television has gotten weird. The Yo Gabba Gabba monsters are pretty cute, I’ll give them that. But TV now seems to have gotten away from the idea of providing something for parents and kids to enjoy together. Instead, they’re addictive to kids, and frightening/irritating parents right out of the room.

And what message are they sending, anyway? At least twice a week, I have Dora barking at me during a visit to look for where she left her map. Maybe turn around and put in an effort yourself, Dora. I’m not the one who lost it. A little personal responsibility goes a long way, and it’s time we impart that wisdom on our nation’s pre-schoolers.

But, people tell me, kids love her! And she teaches them to say “feliz cumpleaños!”

Huh. So kids like adorable puppets who teach fun songs and are also bilingual…

Oh right. It’s been done before. Except these guys are doing it right, and have been for over 40 years. Maybe it’s because it’s what I grew up with, but I can’t imagine why anyone else even tries with children’s television. Will anything else ever be that good?

Before you answer, please watch.

It really holds up.

Newest Reality Hit: SocialJerk on a Soap Box

21 07 2010

I’ve tried to hide it. I’ve gone through feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and trying to quit. But I’ve decided to just come out with it–I love MTV reality shows.

Numbers one and two are, naturally, “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom”. You would think I see enough pregnant and parenting teens at work, but somehow I don’t. It’s reassuring, in some strange way, to watch these girls make a mess of their lives, and know that I won’t be getting a phone call to fix it.

I like these shows because, like I’ve said, I like working with teen girls. I can watch “16 and Pregnant” or “Teen Mom” and be reminded of girls that I no longer work with and therefore no longer get to see. I can see a girl being a pain in the ass, and feel inexplicably nostalgic.

And yet, these shows have gotten a bad rap. They “glamourize” teen pregnancy. Really? Watching boy after boy choose his X-Box over his child, seeing girls drop out and miss their proms, listening to them talk about being stuck at home while their friends are all out partying? This is not my idea of glamour. Then again, I’ve always been enamoured with 1940s Hollywood, so my standards are probably impossibly high.

What drives me crazy, (and drives me to blog) is when people say that these shows set a bad example for girls. They said the same thing when Jamie Lynn Spears got pregnant. A Spears girl setting a poor example for young women? Perish the thought!

The girls I work with don’t need to turn on MTV to see pregnant teenagers. They’re already next to one in class. Most of their mothers first got pregnant as teenagers. Their sisters and aunts have done the same thing. It’s not a surprise to them to hear that teen pregnancy is possible. They’re usually more shocked to find out that having a couple of kids by age 20 is not an inevitibility.

People think that these girls are unrealistic about what being a mother will be like. They think that making them carry around eggs (blogger’s note: WTF is up with that?) or realistic dolls will make them see how much work a child is.

The thing is, most of these girls have been caring for children since they were barely in the double digits. They know that babies keep you up all night screaming, because they’ve been up with siblings since the fifth grade. They know babies eat every two hours and shit their pants, because they’ve been responsible for half of the feedings and diaper changings for their cousins, nieces, and nephews for most of their lives.

So when we say it’s setting a bad example, let’s be honest about who we’re talking about. It’s not teens in general. It’s mostly white, middle and upper class girls. And that’s fine. They need people to look out for them, like all teenagers do.

But maybe some of that righteous indignation, outrage and concern could be directed over this way.