Sex isn't a game; babies aren't dolls

Children having children is not nearly so exciting as stories about children having children.

So while everyone was arguing over whether teens in a Massachusetts high school made a “pact” to get pregnant, few talked about what life has in store for them and their children.

There was little discussion on what young men and women are learning about their bodies and their choices.

In North Carolina, after a 13-year decline in the teen pregnancy rates that resulted in the lowest-ever in 2003, the number has held steady, with 2006 state rates nearly the same as those over the previous three years.

The figures, released and pored over by the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina, are from the State Center for Health Statistics. North Carolina still has one of the higher teen pregnancy rates in the nation. In 2006, North Carolina's rate was 63.1 pregnancies per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, according to state center.

Behind the numbers are children who turn to babies as the answer for loneliness. They will yearn to be left alone when days and evenings are filled with diaper changes and colicky cries.

It's also a matter of money, of course, dollars spent on the care of teens who drop out of school and have trouble getting back on track, and their children, who have a greater chance of growing into troubled young people.

Sex is not a game and an infant is not a doll. If you think a child will come from the womb offering love and acceptance, then you are mistaken. Children are equal parts wonder and need and will take more than you think you can possibly give.

But the perils of taking on real life too soon go down easier as entertainment. On network television, NBC has given birth to a summer show with perfect timing. “The Baby Borrowers” gets mileage from its catchy slogan, “It's not TV, it's birth control,” as teen couples play pretend parents with responsibilities.

You can figure out where this one is going. “You mean babies cry and poop? Being a parent is hard. Who knew?” And when the show is over, the children return to their grown-up parents and the teens can party once more.

Not true for too many in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. The Mecklenburg County Health Department, which monitors students' health needs, reported that for the 2007-08 school year, 497 students were identified as being pregnant, up from 333 the previous year, according to a CMS spokesperson.

Students who become pregnant have the right to stay in their home school, though Hawthorne High offers support services such as parenting classes and day care. But given such a challenge, how many drop out and never come back?

Who are they listening to?

In N.C. schools, an abstinence-based health and sex education program (not quite abstinence only), gives grade-appropriate facts, with an emphasis on character and making good choices, said a CMS spokesperson.

But obviously some lessons are not getting through, the ones about responsibility and consequences.

When a handful of teenagers turn to each other for comfort, it doesn't matter if they concocted some sort of “pact.” By then, it may be too late.

We have to reach young people before they create a life and lose hope in theirs.