Here's a new nonprofit organization that seems to represent teenagers' interests about the way the Humane Pet Genocide Society represents dogs' interests. Although I never was a very rebellious teenager--I loved and pitied my disabled mother, and my "rebellion" consisted of baby-sitting and going to college--this writer's patronizing, belittling attitude toward teenagers made my inner teenager leap up screaming "What would you know, y'senile old hag!"
I decided against posting a comment on the same page with this article--NYT articles tend to generate unreadable masses of comments anyway. Basically, Fraidy Reiss claims that we need to prevent sexually active teenagers from taking responsibility for their babies in order to "help women and girls escape forced marriages."
My comment was:
This article may draw on accurate information about some countries, but it rests on premises that are false.
I knew 13-year-olds who chose marriage without parental approval (which used to be legal in some states). I knew old people who'd shared long, reasonably happy, lives with the people they married at 13. I've known (a tiny minority of mostly male) 13-year-olds who would admit to being "children" in terms of parenthood or even sex, and even an occasional 20-year-old will admit to being only half-grown when it comes to military service in wartime, but I've never seen or heard of a 13-year-old who would have to be "forced to emancipate" if able to achieve financial independence.
I don't know that early marriage is more harmful to the children of such a marriage that single motherhood is. While I'd guess that each family compensates for its disadvantages as best it can, so that the question would be impossible to answer, I'd suspect that single motherhood may do more harm to more children.
And, with no-fault divorce so cheap these days, I find it hard to imagine how much help it's possible for anyone to need to "escape" from any marriage.
On second thought, this comment seems applicable only to the U.S.-born population I know well. Reiss's organization was probably built on the experience of the immigrant community, which can be quite different.
Arranged and forced marriages are still used, mainly to prevent dating and self-awareness and the kind of sexual-emotional freedom many American baby-boomers value so highly, in some countries from which a lot of people have immigrated to the United States lately. Such marriages may be contracted at birth. In the best-case scenario, when kids are married before either is even thinking seriously about sex, they have their first crushes on each other, and the security of the marriage allows adolescent hormone surges to be a source of True Romance rather than Teen Angst. In the worst-case scenario, a prematurely contracted marriage may force a teenager to live with someone who has a contagious disease, or even be regarded as the widow of someone who has died before the wedding took place--which may, in some of these cultures, brand the teen as an unlucky person nobody else would ever want to marry.
While it's not difficult for people in these situations to escape unwanted marriages under existing U.S. law, their individual situations are likely to be complicated by their immigrant status. A child who was brought to the U.S. at age 10 and pushed into a contract marriage at age 13 is unlikely to have achieved U.S. citizenship, may have few or no social contacts outside the extended family or an immigrant community that support the contract marriage, and may indeed face overwhelming obstacles to just saying "I don't" if told to marry someone with AIDS.
These teenagers may want and even need protection. Still, they are a minority of all teenagers in the U.S. and their experience is in no way normative. And they're not the kind of "children" Reiss seems to want to call them, in any case. In the real world, many of the bad choices teenagers make are motivated by a felt need to show everyone that, although they've not reached their full adult sizes or formed their adult characters, they're not little children any more.
Young women and girls have their own hormone surges and urges and felt "needs." I see no benefit to anybody in pretending that most, or even many, teenagers' pregnancies are the result of rape. (In most of the United States, contraceptives are routinely supplied to any female who reports rape.) A substantial number may be the result of miseducation--corporate interests just love to tell young people that birth control products are "97% effective" without explaining that that means "If you use these products a hundred times, you can expect three babies, and those babies are most likely to be conceived on the first few encounters because most people's fertility peaks right after puberty." Most are, however, the result of self-indulgence, and the cure for that is not more "help" from would-be nannies who want to make sure nobody has "too much freedom," but more accountability for what individuals do with their freedom.
When I was a teenager, many people still believed that a well-brought-up teenaged girl wouldn't think, dream, or fantasize about sex. Surely nobody still believes that. Some parents told their daughters to stop speaking to schoolmates who were married, were single mothers, or had admitted they weren't perfect virgins. My parents had better sense than that. What my mother did, in order to raise fully "liberated" daughters who earned their own money and made their own choices and chose to be virgin brides, was take us to call on former schoolmates who'd rushed into parenthood...so we saw for ourselves how much more fun we were having than they were having. That worked.
(Amazon link time? School libraries used to stock helpful little storybooks, for the benefit of kids whose parents weren't as sensible as mine...like this one.)
No question about it: teenagers who choose self-indulgence miss out on most of the fun of being young. They'll be mopping baby spew while their school friends are touring Europe, and although they can always go back to school when their children do, although most colleges point with pride to the 75-year-old in the computer course and a 25-year-old student won't even look conspicuous to most of the 18-year-olds, these people do miss out on the fun of belonging to a "college crowd." Still, does anyone who's looked up his or her genealogy not know of an ancestor who survived, and whose marriage survived, an early marriage?
I also suspect that, even if girls like Loretta Lynn grow up regretting that they married too young, as adults they live with fewer regrets than those whom the ever-so-helpful social workers have encouraged to "choose" abortion.
So, whatever may need to be done to ensure that teen marriages are fully consensual, I think we need to keep teen marriages legal.
And rare...I'd be delighted if all of The Nephews waited until age 30 to decide whether to have one child or none. Your ancestors did that; probably all of you inherited the genes for long active lives from the great-grandfather who had eleven children after age 50 or the mother who had you at age 40 or any number of your other long-lived ancestors, and you, too, can and should wait. You'd be stupid, irresponsible, and childish not to wait. I'd think less of your intelligence for the rest of your life if you had children before you were 25...but I'd certainly rather help you rear such children, if you did have them, than suggest that you abort them.