September 24 2012
Ah, high school. Those were the days. My friends and I used to go to the Sonic fast food restaurant for the only "happy hour" in North Carolina* to buy strawberry cream-slush milkshakes. Then we'd head back to campus for drama practice, color guard, or a student government meeting. We were ambitious, we were learning, but we were still kids, enjoying childhood and mostly living by our parents' rules.
That's not to say my high school experience was all apple pie. There were drinking parties, some kids did drugs, and several girls got pregnant. Teen pregnancy is a problem all over the United States, and there's been an ongoing debate about whether schools should teach students how to use contraception during "sex ed" classes. I never learned about condoms at school, so I must have slipped through the cracks or had an "abstinence only" education. Honestly, the main place I heard about sex was at my church, each February when Valentine's Day - and the "True Love Waits" campaign - came to our youth group.
That's why it's so bizarre to me that New York City's public schools are going to offer the "Morning-After" pill to students. It's clear what the advantages will be: In New York City, about 7,000 girls get pregnant each year. This disrupts their education, and half of these pregnancies end in abortion. I'm sure the thought is that offering "Plan B" to students will reduce the number of unexpected pregnancies at school.
But there are two sides to every coin:
This pill is not a piece of candy. There are real health-related questions about making it available to 14 year olds. Remember, it's called "Plan B," and is intended for occasional use. I'd hate to think of immature students using it instead as "Plan A," unneccessarily flushing their developing bodies with these hormones too frequently. Yes, I know the FDA says it's safe. But it certainly isn't best. This could mean that students reduce their condom use, too, which could expose them to a higher risk of contracting an STD.
Furthermore, think about what this means culturally about the value of sexual intimacy. Is it too much to ask of high schoolers to focus on their studies and enjoy being kids? And by making "Plan B" available at school - from the nurse - aren't we cutting out an important middleman, the parent? I knew that my parents expected me to abstain from sex when I was in high school, and I knew that if I ever put myself in a situation where I would be asking someone for help with an unwanted pregnancy... it would be them. The thought of looking my parents in the eye and telling them I was in trouble made me never ever want to get in that kind of trouble. I would have been so ashamed. Maybe our society has erred on the side of too-little shame these days.
Ultimately, I feel that my parents' (and my church's) encouragement to abstain from sex was good advice. I look back at my high school days and think of Sonic and sunshine in my '99 Mustang convertible... not regrets about sex.
Not everyone will agree with me, and some parents might be the type to take their 14-year-old girls to the gynecologist for that first prescription of birth control. Fine. At least those parents are taking an active role and having an open conversation with their kids. We are a diverse country with diverse values when it comes to sex. It's tough for public schools to navigate those moral waters: another argument for small government, school choice, and therefore less collective-decision making. Parents need to take back their role in sex education. It starts at home.
And of course the ultimate irony is that, when NYC students swing by Sonic, they can't buy a 64-ounce soda. Because of course soda is worse for you than say, the emotional trauma that can come from too-early sexual experiences. That's pretty twisted, New York. If my nanny had these priorities, she'd be fired.
*North Carolina does not allow the sale of alcoholic beverages for different prices throughout the day. Sonic offers non-alcoholic drinks for reduced prices during the afternoon, but bars are not allowed to offer "happy hour" specials. New York is not the only "Nanny State" after all.