Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dad at 13

This is my column today.

As I write, I am trying to rack my brains trying to remember what I was doing when I was 13 years old.

I am going to spare you the details of my quick trek down memory lane and just be really candid and admit that although I am sure I didn’t have sex with anyone when I was at that age yet, neither was I really that innocent or na├»ve about matters relating to the birds and the bees. Sure, I was also preoccupied with schoolwork, and bicycles, and ballgames; but I also remembered having raging hormones at that age. Come to think of it, what 13-year old wouldn’t be?

It wasn’t the topic of our every conversation, but I remember that most conversations I had with my friends when I was 13 eventually meandered on to, what else, sex of course. The Internet was still a fragment of someone’s imagination, but there were lots of books and magazines and betamax tapes with adult content that we had access to. Before you start accusing my parents and authority figures of permissive behavior, let me hasten to add that all these were done behind their back. Necessity is truly the mother of creativity and this rule may have been invented with boys going through puberty in mind.

I know that as much as possible, we want our kids to remain childlike and the thought of imagining them being “tainted” with malice and being capable of sexual behavior is somehow disconcerting. But it’s an escapable fact of life. Kids have feelings. Kids have needs. Kids are sexual beings. The sooner we deal with these facts, the better for all of us.

Even more disconcerting is that the onset of puberty seems getting younger and younger. Kids seem to indulge in sexual behavior at an earlier age today. I did a quick informal survey among some of my students and learned that many of them got their first exposure to sexual behavior in grade school.

Anyone out there who needs validation should check out the story of Alfie Patten, the current hot item in the Internet. He is a 13-year-old boy from Britain who has been dubbed by media as “Babyfather” because that’s what he became last week. His 15-year-old girlfriend gave birth to a daughter they christened Maisie Roxanne.

The story of a 13-year-old boy fathering a child is something that has shaken many people out of their wits.

I think, however, that what really heightened the impact of the story and made it incredible were the pictures of the young boy cuddling his daughter that were splashed on the front page of some newspapers. Videos of the family can also be found in the Internet. In all of these, the 13-year old looks so much younger—one would estimate his age to be around 7 or 8. He looks like he is cuddling his younger sister rather than his own daughter. He really looks like a child, someone who should be tossing a soccer ball around or reading storybooks rather than worrying about the cost of diapers and infant formula.

Additional reality check: He is 13 now, so what this means is that he got his 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant when he was 12.

Britain and the rest of the world are now going through a major soul-searching effort. As can be expected, there’s a lot of finger-pointing happening. The general drift of the discussion out there is that the story is symptomatic of what is wrong with the world. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only point of agreement. There is now a whole divergence of opinions regarding what exactly is wrong with the world or what is causing whatever is wrong with the world.

On one side, you have the usual Bible-thumping people saying that this is the result of what they consider too much permissiveness and liberalism in the world. They’ve gone on to blame people who advance the cause of sex education, etc. In their reckoning, the world “taught” these kids to have sex under the guise of protecting them.

On the other side are those who think that this is the result of inadequate or bungled up sex education programs. According to them, if these kids knew exactly what they were doing and what the consequences would be, they would have had second thoughts about it. Or at least used some precautions if they couldn’t restrain themselves.

Everyone has been hyperventilating about the moral and social implications of the story that no one seems alarmed that the identity, the pictures, and the videos of the young dad, his girlfriend, and the days-old baby are out there to begin with. Everyone seems concerned about the future of the young father and his daughter they’ve lost sight of one immediate concern, which is protecting their rights as children. This kind of hypocrisy is absurd.

Britain’s Tory Leader David Cameron spewed quite a mouthful about how the pictures got him “worrying that in Britain today, children are having children.” He went on and on about how the story is an indictment of society and did all that chest-thumping gobbledygook. I agree that there are social and moral implications of the story, but shouldn’t we, first of all, get riled up about the kind of exploitation being done to these young kids?

It appears that the young dad’s parents are cashing in on the story. There are various reports about the kind of money that certain media organizations have paid to the parents for the story. Media organizations are spending millions of pounds for the right to sensationalize the story. Why aren’t there enough people who are riled up about this, as well?

If we are to be serious about playing the role of grownups to these kids, shouldn’t the first consideration be ensuring the welfare of the kids rather than going into major hysterics about what the neighbors would say or how it would change the norms of the community? Or do we think that these kids deserve punishment for their indiscretion?

I am just as disturbed as everyone else over the fact that a young boy became a father at 13. But I am more disturbed with the kind of discussion this story has sparked. Most are stuck in the “how can this be,” “what kind of kids are these,” “what kind of society are we creating” mode.
The way I see it, no amount of hand wringing and flailing around addresses the real core of the issue, which is that kids today are becoming more and more acquainted with their sexuality at an early age.

Regardless of how many novenas we storm the heavens with, it seems God just won’t delay the onset of puberty until our kids are in their twenties. What do we do about it? Do we imprison their minds and force them to live in the dark in the vain hope that doing so would protect them or do we educate them, empower them and give them the necessary tools required to deal with possible situations?

2 comments:

Danielle said...

I totally agree that kid’s today are being exposed to sexuality at a younger age, and that is something we can’t stop. People can fight for or against sex ed, but we need to face it- with movies, TV, Internet, advertising, books, magazines- they will be exposed. According to this video (http://www.newsy.com/videos/young_father_sparks_media_debate/), which also has more of the Cameron quote in it- Britain has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world. Why is that? I always thought it was bad here in the U.S., but we must be doing something right.

Bong C. Austero said...

Danielle, my guess is that halfhearted sex education makes it worse. Thanks for dropping by.