We happened to catch this recent interview with Bristol Palin. She is probably the most well-known teenaged mother in the country right now, so I guess that merited a lengthy sit-down with a major news anchor. A couple of things stuck out to me. First of all, was the clear acquiescence to sexual activity. When asked about avoiding unwed pregnancy, Bristol said that though abstinence is probably the best way, it is totally unrealistic. And though this may be a girl trying to morally cover for her own unfortunately public sex life, she is totally wrong.
We need to quit lowering expectations for young people and give them new (actually quite ancient) ways of dealing with their sexual behavior. Sexual abstinence is more than the best way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, it is the best way to assure a healthy soul and body when someone gets married. In addition, it is morally upright and a character strength to save sexuality for the expression of marriage.
Abstinence is not unrealistic – I grant that teens are bombarded with sexuality more and more all the time – but it is not an impossible goal.
The second thing that struck me was her “reasoning” for why she should have waited. While she said a couple of times that the birth of her child taught her that she no longer lived for herself, the only reason she could provide for why she should have waited was strikingly selfish. If she waited 10 years or so, she said a couple of times, she would have an education and a job and could take better care of her child by herself. The only thing she could come up with when asked why teen pregnancy is not the best idea was to appeal to one’s selfishness. You will have more money if you wait.
All this reveals the lack of moral education among our teens and young adults. When asked why something is wrong, or “not the best idea,” if the answer is not some pabulum of relativism, it is self-centered emotivism or pragmatism. I could have done X better if I had allowed for myself to be in a better position financially if I did X differently.
What happened to the moral demands of character and virtue or the moral realities of duty and community? I guarantee you (as a college ethics teacher), most people younger than 30 have only two tools in their ethical tool box: “what is OK for me is OK for me,” and, “If it works for you, go ahead.”
I am glad Bristol has a large and supportive family to help her raise the child, but the vast majority of teen mothers are not so lucky. They need a better reason than, if you wait, you will get a raise.