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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Teenage Fanclub

“An enhanced sex education programme for teenagers has proved no better than conventional teaching in cutting unwanted pregnancies or abortions, a detailed research study said yesterday.”

Well blow me down with a feather, who’d have thought that?

“The programme was based on an intensive £900 training course for teachers that was then delivered to 15-year-olds over three years. The programme and research was devised and supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Education Board for Scotland, now Health Scotland. The study found that one fifth of 15- to 20-year-olds had at least one pregnancy and that one in 10 had at least one abortion. Abortion rates were not significantly different from rates in England and Wales, said Dr Marion Henderson, the MRC researcher who led the study.”

I’m ordinarily the last person to stick up for today’s youth (frankly, if you’re 14 and sitting next to me on the bus, there’s a 95% chance I’m fantasising about stabbing you with a pair of scissors) but I’m tired of the ever-popular Daily Mail-inspired notion that young people are opinion-less, personality-less vacuums.
When I was 16 I didn’t require society’s guidance on every aspect of my life in order to stick to the moral path chosen for me by those in authority, therefore I don’t think that today’s 16 year olds need it either. Teenagers have just as much chance of (and as much right to) get things right and wrong as anyone else, so why the hell they should they be criticised for their f**k ups any more than the rest of us is quite beyond me.

It is human nature to make decisions based on your own views and based on what you feel is right for you, whatever your age. It is also human nature to make mistakes. If a 40 year old man in the desperate grip of a midlife crisis buys himself a Harley Davidson and runs off with the nanny, that’s probably a mistake. If a drunk woman sleeps with her best mate’s husband after a night on the Lambrini, chances are that’s a mistake as well. If a Prime Minister accidentally declares war in the Middle East, that’s almost certainly an error of judgement, but in each of those cases we don’t point at the people in question and hysterically screech about their behaviour being somehow indicative of a collapse of society (OK, maybe the last one we might).

On that basis, if a teenage girl makes a drunken error and either has a baby or (god help us) an abortion as a result, is that not, in the same way, her own business? Is it not just her own mistake? And if we don’t like what the teenage pregnancy figures say about social inequality, surely we need to deal with the causes and realities of that inequality, rather than patronise teenage girls for screwing things up in much the same manner as everyone else?

Could it (whisper it) truly be possible that teenagers and young people are actually capable of making autonomous independent decisions regardless of the opinions of others? And could it be that attending “How to live a blameless existence” class has the same effect on teenagers as it would on the rest of us?

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