Left Holding the Baby; HOW OUR SCHOOLS ARE ATTACKING SCOURGE OF UNWANTED TEENAGE PREGNANCY

Article excerpt

Television viewers are shocked when a 13-year-old girl becomes pregnant in Coronation Street, but it is only a case of soaps mimicking life. The West Midlands has one of the country's worst teenage pregnancy rates. Women's Editor DIANE PARKES looks at attempts to cut the number of gymslip mums.

ALL the other pupils are laughing as 15-year-old Daniella tries to show 'dad' Dil how to change a nappy.

Dad is looking in horror as she explains all about it. Dad did not want to be in the house changing a nappy, his plans for the night had involved partying with friends - but such are the responsibilities of parenthood.

Daniella is a student volunteer in the drama 'Holding the Baby' being performed by Birmingham-based Catalyst Theatre Group at Langley High School in Oldbury.

She is trying to show the group of fellow pupils how teenage mums and dads should communicate if they are to take joint responsibility of their baby.

The 90-minute drama session with Catalyst involves the youngsters in watching professional actors, role-playing, changing the story and discussing the pressures on teenagers where sex and parenthood is concerned.

In their discussion sessions they frankly look at the pressures on young people and the factors which result in them being left holding the baby.

But, as Catalyst director Steve Ball says: "This is not finger wagging. It's about providing young people with accurate information and experience so they can make their own choices.

"This programme aims to challenge the glamorous image in the media of having a baby. We want young people to see the reality of having a family.

"The experience takes a participatory approach. There is a Chinese proverb which says 'I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand' and that is our approach. We hope that by participating they will understand the issues."

'Holding the Baby' has been touring schools in Birmingham for ten years and is now taking on Sandwell.

Steve adds: "These are very sensitive issues but by using fiction in this way we allow them to be explored. It is easier talking about it when it is fiction than when we are talking about real people they know.

That can inhibit what they want to say. Using fiction gives teachers and young people the chance to talk freely about being pregnant at 15 and all the issues that come with it."

Protection

Langley is a typical inner city senior school. Its pupils face the issues being discussed in the play - what age is the right age to start sexual relationships? At what stage in a relationship is it acceptable? What form of protection should you take? What part does alcohol play in your decisions? Who do you talk to when things go wrong? How supportive are your parents?

Like it or not, they are issues faced by our young people today - and getting them talking about it is a way of helping them think through all aspects of the picture.

School deputy head Maria Satchwell says: "This drama will enhance the personal and social health programme already taking place in the school. It has been an excellent way of approaching the subject. These are issues that we address in the school and this is a way of seeing it in a real life situation."

And the students know only too well how much a part of life sexuality becomes.

Laura Harris, aged 14, says: "My boyfriend's mum had a baby and I help out with that so I know it is really hard work. I wouldn't want to have a baby until I was 23 because I would want to have my life first.

"I think there is pressure on girls because boys are always saying you should do it but you shouldn't do anything until you want to."

Coming from a family of eight, 14-year-old Denise Tookey also has her own experience of caring for children.

"I want to have children but I wouldn't want them until I was older. …