Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Scarlet Letter Gets Sadly Updated

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Scarlet Letter Gets Sadly Updated

Article excerpt

Under normal circumstances, Melissa Drexler could be a sophomore in college this fall. But last year Ms. Drexler, of Forked River, N.J., committed a terrible crime: killing the newborn son she delivered in a bathroom at her senior prom. After she is sentenced Oct. 29, she will spend at least several years in jail.

In a similar tragedy, another New Jersey teenager, Amy Grossberg, and her boyfriend, Brian Peterson, pleaded guilty last month to killing their newborn son in a motel room. Ms. Grossberg got a 2-1/2- year sentence, Mr. Peterson two years.

Like other teenage mothers before them, both young women hid their pregnancies out of fear and shame, afraid to seek help even from their parents. Who knows how the stories might have been different if someone who had suspected they were pregnant - a teacher, a school nurse, a friend - had reached out with a listening ear or a helping hand.

Although teen birth rates in the United States have declined by 12 percent since 1991, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half a million teens still give birth every year. Despite public attitudes that are far more forgiving today than in the past, many of these young women still fear that to be young, single, and pregnant is to face a persistent stigma, real or imagined: the scarlet P.

Vulnerable teenagers also face mixed messages about sexuality. In ads, movies, and television shows, they are bombarded by sexual messages that subtly and not-so-subtly encourage them - and everyone else - to "do it." At the same time they hear the concerned "don't- do-it" admonitions of parents, religious leaders, and other adults who care deeply about their well-being and their future.

Adults trying to help teens steer a safe and moral course face dilemmas of their own: How to convey the importance of saying no to premarital sex and at the same time reassure teens that they stand ready to help if students find themselves in trouble. …

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