Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stones or Consequences

In this post, I called--to put it bluntly--for the public shaming of those responsible for a teen pregnancy. I received an anonymous comment that sardonically suggested we stone them too.

I understand the sentiment. Part of me shares it. As I get older (I started this blog in July on my 40th birthday) I have come to realize that most of the sins that bother me in others I have committed myself in thought or deed. Those I haven't committed, I feel that "there but for the grace of God I go."

For the record, yes I have had sex outside of marriage, just not as a teenager. That's not to say I didn't want to or try, so my hands are just as unclean as the kids at Timken High. I'm not casting stones here. I'm calling for consequences.

There are two kinds of consequences: real and imposed. The real consequences of an action are the ones that you don't have to invent; they come with the territory. Stick your hand on a hot stove, and you get burned. It's not optional.

Imposed consequences, on the other hand, are the ones that we create for ourselves and each other in order to avoid or reinforce the real consequences, especially when the real consequences are difficult to appreciate ahead of time. Parents threaten children with a spanking for walking into the street alone because is just isn't enough to warn them about getting hit by a car. Education, in other words, is not enough. Book learning is not a substitute for real life experience in many situations, especially for young people. They count on their elders to create imposed consequences in order to protect them from the real consequences that they lack the life experience to appreciate.

In our evolving culture, we have moved away from imposed consequences in favor of education, as illustrated by the response to the runaway teen pregnancy problem at Timken:

School officials are not sure what has contributed to so many pregnancies, but in response to them, the school is launching a three-prong educational program to address pregnancy, prevention and parenting.
(article link is here.)

So, rather than impose consequences, Timken officials are turning to education. They will fail.

Why do I sound so confident? Because unlike the educrats who endlessly experiment with our childrens' futures, I appreciate the accumulation of thousands of years of parenting wisdom. It doesn't all represent narrow-minded paternalistic old-school control-minded authoritarian whatever, like the 60's kids (and their intellectual progenitors and heirs) believe.

The fact is, people have been living and learning and adapting for many, many generations on this planet. Almost universally, our ancestors approach to pregnancy out of wedlock was to shame the parties involved (unfortunately, disproportionally the females). Social stigma is a powerful lever, and it's kept millions of boys and girls from the trap the kids at Timken have fallen into.

Yes, it's painful and uncomfortable and yes, it feels judgmental. But it isn't. It's just an effective imposed consequence, one that has worked for thousands of years. We abandoned it for a variety of wrong-headed reasons, including misplaced compassion. We should bring it back for the kids' sake. They need it more than they need our books and lectures.


At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11:26 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

I have to say that I disagree. Actually, decreasing pregnancy rates happens with prevention. Prevention is the MOST EFFECTIVE means of intervention. Just read an article on that in community psych.

Also shaming teenagers just means that they have sex without protection, and therefore have more pregnancy, disease, and unsafe sexual encounters.

And on an anecdotal note, take my own personal case. Christian, 16 years old, valedictorian, student council, heavily involved in church, community service, athlete, involved parents...and because sex was too stigmatized, I didn't tell anyone that I was having sex and put myself in many dangerous situations with it.

If school/church/parents had been more accepting, I would have talked about it. I longed to tell someone, for someone to stop me from my self destruction. But the stigma kept that from happening.

At 7:11 AM, Blogger Zeke said...

Thanks Nicole... but consider that much of the stigma of sex outside marriage (including teen sex) has gone now. Kids are way bolder about it now than they were when I was in high school (20+ years ago) and even, I suspect, than when you were in high school.

Maybe if you had been more afraid of getting caught that would have tipped the scales in favor of not having sex. And then you wouldn't wish that someone else could have talked you out of it.

I'm not talking about what's more comfortable or easier, I'm talking about what works. Shame works, education doesn't. I present nothing more than the statistics as evidence.

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Nicole said...

Are you kidding me? I was so afraid of the consequences of getting caught that I just got really good at lying and being manipulative!

Of course, I don't know what paradigm you're operating from. My Christian beliefs make me think that erring on the side of grace is a much better policy, and a more Biblical one.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

Wow, that "erring on the side of grace" really hit home, and I'm not being sarcastic.

I'm talking about a pretty extreme, life-altering decision around having sex and kids of that age--and I well remember being one--are just not equipped to deal with that decision rationally. Education as prevention just doesn't work, the impulse is too strong.

It's like curiosity for kids. Why do they walk into the street without looking? Because kids have lousy peripheral senses and they just want to go see that interesting thing over there. Reasoning with them or educating them isn't enough. They have to associate walking into the street with pain. That cuts through. They get that.

So too with teen sex, you have to have something register in their minds that's stronger than the impulse to have sex. Shame is a time-proven commodity. Until we develop a better one (and we clearly haven't), we should stick with what works.


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