Young Love, New Caution/LoveU2 - 3/04
Smart Marriages ®
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Sat Mar 13 12:05:26 EST 2004
subject: Young Love, New Caution/LoveU2 - 3/04
from: Smart Marriages®
- INCREDIBLE ARTICLE
I'm forwarding this in case you haven't seen it. It touched me deeply and
poignantly describes my motivation for Love U2. It's girls like this. and
girls who aren't so fortunate academically, who have very little room for
set back that motivate me. Think about what the relationship with this guy,
pregnancy or living with this guy might mean to her life. It's just utterly
not enough to teach the health sex-ed route....or just the
I see kids like this alot--who have no room for anything to go wrong.
I also teach mothers like hers ALL the time - they make progress
academically or employment-wise and then their unwise choices in men not
only hurt them but their children. The author of this article even uses the
word I've been trying to get across -- bad relationships DERAIL females. I
also have seen how they derail really decent young men and young fahers.
This article makes numerous compelling points.
I remember addressing 100 pregnant teens in a workshop last May and saying
today is about getting smarter about love --
your future love life -- is going to help or hurt your kid.
It is the missing piece...it is about building assets, whether you're a teen
or a single mother, or father.
Maggie Gallagher just wrote in her piece about government policy and
marriage that teen pregnancy prevention programs needing to include a
marriage message. She's right.
And I also believe that "abstinence-plus" is not enough. It's not enough to
say abstinence is the safest or best choice and then spend most of your time
on health. I believe in the the 90%/10% approach. 90 to the RELATIONSHIP and
sexuality issues and 10% to protection. I really like the Campaign's concept
m.e.p at earthlink.net
Marline, creator of the LoveU2 Curriculum for teens, presented a keynote in
Reno "Sex Ed: The Missing Link" and will present her new curriculum in
Dallas as a Friday workshop and also as part of the Free post-conf
school/youth institute #918. I agree with Marline that this long article is
worth reading. - diane
> Love U2 - Friday, July 9, 2004
> Marline Pearson, MA
> This 5-unit curriculum helps teens cultivate a "relationship North Star" and
> become smarter about skills, marriage, sex and parenting.
>From the New York Times
March 8, 2004
YOUNG LOVE, NEW CAUTION
For a Promising but Poor Girl, a Struggle Over Sex and Goals
By NINA BERNSTEIN
The framed poster in the nurse practitioner's office lists "101 Ways to Say
No to Sex." But Tabitha F., a 17-year-old high school senior, wants to say
yes without apology.
"I guess I'm a feminist, because I don't believe having sexual freedom is
bad, dirty," she declared during a break between Spanish and A.P. Lit, where
she was reading "The Awakening," an 1899 novel about a woman's emancipation.
"I think it's all about being ready, and not to go there without a helmet."
The modern armory of contraception is inventoried on another poster in the
clinic, an outpost of Montefiore Medical Center that is tucked inside DeWitt
Clinton High School in the Bronx. But despite her brave words, real
protection eludes Tabitha, who travels two hours to her honors program at
DeWitt Clinton from a homeless shelter in Queens.
As she first told it, she chose the birth control patch when she fell in
love. Later, she confessed: "I got off the patch because it was a lot of
money. I couldn't go on asking my mother for $15." Eventually, over a
semester when she embraced Dickens and grasped physics, Tabitha revealed the
darker reality of the romance that had claimed her virginity.
On a winter night in 2002, after her family was evicted from their Bronx
apartment, there was no room for her with relatives who had taken in her
mother and four younger siblings. For two nights she rode the subway to keep
warm. Then a young man she knew gave her a place to sleep.
"I guess I loved him, but on the other hand there was this depressing moment
of, like, nothing's going right in my life," she said. "He was there for me.
I felt, well, it's the least I can do."
Tabitha's journey through high school, so full of promise and peril,
illustrates why no one is yet declaring victory in the national crusade to
prevent teenagers from conceiving. Though teenage pregnancy rates have
declined for more than a decade, to historic lows, they could rebound at any
time, experts say.
If fear of AIDS instilled more sexual caution in a generation of
adolescents, that fear may be waning, as upbeat subway ads promote H.I.V.
drugs and younger siblings engage in riskier behavior. If a religious
revival and an influx of immigrants have brought stricter attitudes toward
sex, the teenagers from such backgrounds who stray are less likely to use
contraception or seek abortion. And if the growth in opportunities for poor
women depressed birth rates in the 1990's, the economic downturn and rising
college costs could have the opposite effect - tightening the persistent
link between low income and high rates of unintended birth.
Those large forces reverberate in the daily lives of individual teenagers
like Tabitha. Born to a 17-year-old in 1986, when teenage childbearing began
its most alarming spike, she is now a tall, striking girl with a radiant
smile and a yearning to succeed.
At times it seems that nothing can stop her. She is part of DeWitt Clinton's
Macy Scholars program, which helps low-income minority students qualify for
competitive colleges. Last summer, she organized a literacy class at her
homeless shelter. This semester, she stuffed her copy of "Great
Expectations" with scribbled Post-it notes, parsing the book's strange words
and strangely familiar themes: childhood hardship, heartbreak and
"She's smart, articulate - she has so much spunk," said Phyllis McCabe, the
coordinator of the Macy program and one of Tabitha's fiercest advocates.
"She's poised, she's compassionate."
But after their warm embrace in front of a photographer, Ms. McCabe pulled
her aside for a stern private lecture. The teenager had missed so much
school during her junior year, after her family's eviction, that she was
still struggling to bring her average back up to the 85 required to remain a
Macy Scholar. And now, with her long commute, she was arriving late.
Colleges would excuse her checkered junior year only if she could prove she
had overcome her troubles, the coordinator warned her.
"We have kids with terrible, terrible situations," Ms. McCabe said later.
"They're hanging on by a thread, and sometimes when we're asking them to do
it, you wonder how they can."
Tabitha's next stop was the Montefiore clinic, which like many pregnancy
prevention programs is threatened with cutbacks. It has been her only
reliable source of health care since her mother left welfare and lost family
Medicaid benefits three years ago.
Tabitha would never be caught, she said, like her childhood friend Rasheeda,
the shy girl with high grades who wanted to be a nun - and ended up pregnant
at 15 by her first boyfriend, seeking an abortion when it was already too
late. She would not follow in the footsteps of her mother, who had five
children and a church wedding to the father of her youngest three, despite
his drug addiction and domestic violence.
But at the clinic it emerged that Tabitha had missed her last appointment.
Embarrassed by her poverty, she had not mentioned dropping the patch. Nor
did she disclose that a new man had entered her life - an adult with a car,
money and his own apartment.
A stray remark revealed the stakes.
"I was glad," Tabitha told the nurse, "when I got my period two weeks ago."
Perils in Every Case
The decline in teenage pregnancy is a statistical abstraction to Margaret
Rogers, 49, who has been a nurse practitioner at the clinic for seven years.
"I see them one on one," she explained before Tabitha's visit, excusing
herself to speak with an angry mother whose daughter, 15, had tested
An enduring myth of teenage pregnancy is that affluent adolescents get
pregnant as often as poor ones, but have more abortions. In fact, national
surveys show that poor women of all ages have much higher rates of abortion
and unintended births than the better-off. And though government studies
typically display results by race, ethnicity and geography, the most
dramatic and consistent differences in each category are by income.
At DeWitt Clinton, where more than 75 percent of the 4,600 students live
below the federal poverty line, Ms. Rogers sees case by case how
disadvantage can stack the deck.
As the "101 Ways" poster in her office suggests, Ms. Rogers often counsels
students about how to refuse or avoid sex. Some people believe that is the
only message she should deliver. Ms. Rogers, a mother of two and the
daughter of a Presbyterian minister, disagrees.
"The majority of the tests are negative, thank God," she said. "But that's a
kid we know is sexually active, we know is taking some chances, who needs to
be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, to be counseled about condoms
Like many in the field, Ms. Rogers is not convinced that lower pregnancy
rates are here to stay. Adults, she said, forget how quickly one wave of
teenagers gives way to the next. For an earlier generation, the safe-sex
message may have come home when Magic Johnson announced he was infected with
H.I.V. and retired from basketball in 1991. "This generation already doesn't
know who Magic Johnson is," she said.
The average teenage girl has a nearly 90 percent chance of getting pregnant
during a year when she is having sex without contraception, a study by the
Alan Guttmacher Institute shows - a rate that condoms cut to 15 percent and
the most effective birth control methods reduce to less than one in 200.
But there are mothers who find and throw out their daughters' birth control
pills in an effort to stop them from having sex. There are girls who reject
Depo-Provera, a long-lasting hormonal contraceptive shot, not because it
causes bone loss but because it stops menstruation, and they know their
mothers check the garbage for their used sanitary napkins. Other girls, the
nurse said, are engaging in anal sex "not just as a pregnancy prevention,
but to maintain their virginity."
Ms. Rogers finds it particularly difficult to counsel needy girls whose
sexual partners are adults - as are most males who father babies born to
teenagers. "I consider them predatory," she said, noting that older men have
higher rates of sexual disease and lower rates of condom use than teenagers.
"But the girls consider it a great relationship - a guy with some money and
After Tabitha mentioned getting her period, the nurse scheduled another
appointment for counseling and screening, wrote a new prescription for the
patch and offered to arrange a waiver of the fee. Tabitha said she could
afford to pay now: she had started a weekend job at a McDonald's near her
But would she follow through with the patch? If not, would she derail her
life? Those who work with young people like Tabitha say they are constantly
asking such questions as they strain against the force field of poverty.
"Welcome to the club," said Michael Carrera, a New York doctor recognized
nationally for his health and social services program for poor children,
which beats back the odds of pregnancy through the kind of day-to-day
support taken for granted in more affluent families. "I and all the people
who work with us have the same sense of crossing our fingers, falling to our
knees in desperation and frustration sometimes.
"This is so fragile, this is so on-the-edge, that the least little thing
could move us back."
Rebelling Against the Odds
During a long subway ride back to the Queens shelter, run by the Salvation
Army, Tabitha recalled the day she started high school. Her father, who
lives in Virginia with his wife and two children, had marked the occasion
with a rare telephone call.
"He said, 'These four years determine where you go in life,' " she
remembered, imitating his deep voice and lecturing tone. She gave a short
laugh. "I sometimes think my father has been expecting me to be another
statistic. He was expecting me to fall like my mother did."
Tabitha was not a statistic. She was a senior facing college applications,
and the task of finding a narrative arc in her life story that could produce
a happy ending. Sometimes she recounted her experiences in a way that fit
that expectation. Sometimes she revealed the painful contradictions.
This day had started at 5 a.m., searching for clean clothes for school as
though through a shipwreck. Her younger brothers and sisters - Malik, 15,
Isaiah, 8, Akilah, 7, and Kierra, 2 - were still sleeping. For nine months
the family of six had been living in the shelter, a former hotel surrounded
by chain-link fencing, in two small rooms with no telephone.
Riding two buses and two subways, Tabitha had made it to her first class in
time for her big test in American history. Later, she would apply her
understanding of the Bill of Rights like balm to the humiliation of
unannounced room inspections at the shelter.
"It's like the ultimate violation of the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment,
the right to privacy," she complained after a social worker walked in on
Isaiah, naked in the bathroom. "Their excuse? 'Oh, we just want to teach
everybody good housing skills.' People think you're poor, they think you're
dumb or you're a barbarian."
In some ways, Tabitha knew, her mother had fulfilled the public's worst
expectations of teenage mothers in the late 1980's: She dropped out in 11th
grade, had a second baby at 19 and turned to welfare to support two more
born out of wedlock.
But she had also followed every current prescription for protecting her
children from the hazards of poverty, including the risk of early pregnancy.
She continued her education, with help from a city child care program for
mothers in high school. Eventually, she earned a two-year associate's degree
as a physical therapy assistant. She joined a church, left welfare for work
"Marriage is not something obsolete," Tabitha's mother, 34, declared later
over a Sunday lunch at her Pentecostal church in East Harlem, with Kierra in
white crinoline beside her. "It's to be held up as a standard."
Yet in Tabitha's experience, poverty itself made work, religion and marriage
double-edged. On welfare, her mother had managed to provide food for a
family of six or seven, including an orphaned cousin, and kept a one-bedroom
apartment a short subway ride from DeWitt Clinton. But when she went to
work, "they took everything away from her," Tabitha recalled, citing a rent
subsidy, Medicaid and food stamps that vanished along with welfare, making
it harder than ever for the family to make ends meet.
Her mother's proud church wedding to the father of Isaiah and Akilah in 2000
did nothing to improve a troubled relationship that Tabitha said was shaped
by his beatings, growing drug problem and failure to share his pay - at best
$5.75 an hour when he worked.
Until her junior year, Tabitha had been a God-fearing, churchgoing girl, as
she put it. Now she was unsparing as she challenged the pieties of her
childhood. "God wants you to wait," she said sarcastically. "And do you
think your husband will have waited? What about him? What if you wait for
him and he cheats on you, he beats you up?"
"I guess I'm a rebel," she added. "During that period when I was really
homeless, I began questioning a lot. I was like, if you're so loving and
forgiving, why is this happening to me?"
On this school day, Tabitha had stayed late for an extra-help physics class
with Mr. Strasser, an Austrian teacher with a ponytail. She was the only
student without a calculator, and she had to squint to read formulas on the
blackboard since there was no money to replace her broken glasses. But she
loved the way Mr. Strasser explained a problem about acceleration in free
fall, by dropping a piece of paper through her outstretched fingers before
she could catch it.
Maybe Tabitha had caught herself just in time. She had made an appointment
with Ms. Rogers to be screened for everything: H.I.V., chlamydia and other
sexually transmitted diseases. She had vowed to organize her homework
better, to find school clothes the night before, and never again to have sex
without protection. And just in case, she had asked Ms. Rogers how to apply
for emergency Medicaid if she ever needed an abortion.
Now, waiting in the dark at a bus stop on the last leg of her journey back
to the shelter, she pointed out the place where she had met her mysterious
new beau, Mike, 24. He had offered her a ride in his car, and assuring
herself that it would be all right, she had stepped in.
It was nearly 7:30 p.m. when she trudged up the hill to the shelter's
security post. Even outside the fence, a reporter's presence provoked the
guard to threaten Tabitha with expulsion because shelter rules bar the news
media. Tabitha argued with him politely. "Imagine," she finally said,
"threatening someone with homelessness like that!"
An Attack, and an Escape
In Tabitha's high school journey, even the lack of a small sum - for
laundry, a cab - has sometimes had far-reaching consequences that have
raised the odds against her.
One hot day late in her freshman year, she and her stepfather argued over
her attempt to dry a blouse in the oven. As she told it, he punched her in
the face. Tabitha, who had just turned 15, grabbed a kitchen knife and
stabbed him. The charges against her were dropped after she spent a night in
jail. But when she returned home, her stepfather was there, too - awaiting
the birth of another baby that Tabitha would have to tend.
"Mom, stop having kids!" Tabitha said she begged.
Some experts think reactions like hers help explain the decline in teenage
pregnancy. But others say such experiences can cut both ways: Some girls
forced to baby-sit while their mothers work seek escape in adult romance and
Early in her sophomore year, a cute 23-year-old man from her grandmother's
neighborhood in Harlem befriended Tabitha. She was 15 and a virgin, and she
thought it would be safe to go to his place because she had warned him
beforehand, "'I'm not doing anything with you.' "
It was not safe. "He kept turning out the lights, trying to force me to
touch him," she said. "I knew if I was to run away, I would have to call a
cab. My mom would be, 'Why was you there?' I'd be in trouble."
She was in trouble anyway. Haunted by a hip-hop music video that warned
about AIDS, she went to the school clinic to be tested. The counselor who
heard her full account had no doubt that what had happened was a sexual
assault. School officials called the police.
Two officers came to her house, Tabitha said; she had been napping and was
still dazed when they drove her around the corner in their squad car in the
"I'm here crying and crying," she recalled. "They shine a flashlight at me,
and they're like, 'Are you sure you want to pursue this?' Making me tell it
over and over, and then: 'There are so many inconsistencies in your account.
It's your word against his. Do you want to just take this as a learning
Her choked "yeah" was an agreement not to press charges. In retrospect, what
she hated most, she said, was seeing the way the two white policemen looked
at her family's apartment. "Our house, O.K., it was never the best, but that
day it was so dirty, roaches and everything," she recalled, her voice
growing thick. "It gave them more reason to think I wasn't worth it."
Far from teaching greater sexual caution, such experiences can be precursors
to depression, risky teenage sex and early pregnancy, studies in recent
years have shown. What protected Tabitha?
One camp might point to religion, another to counseling. But the key factor
may have been DeWitt Clinton's strong theater program, the kind of extra
that schools cut when budgets tighten. It sent her downtown to audition at
La MaMa, an experimental theater in the East Village. Cast in an Elizabeth
Swados production called "The Violence Project," Tabitha found a new
community where she felt valued and challenged.
That summer, traveling between Manhattan and the Bronx, she noticed "the
invisible line of poverty" on Park Avenue at 96th Street. As the economy
soured, she watched her mother, now separated, fall further behind on the
rent. More than ever, Tabitha dreamed of going away to college. A
scholarship was possible, her guidance counselors had told her. But her
junior year would be crucial.
In Search of Shelter
As that school year began, marshals evicted the family with one day's
notice. Efforts to secure an apartment in Newark failed. And a crisis hit
during Christmas break.
Her mother and the other children had taken refuge with Tabitha's
grandmother. Tabitha, then 16, had been shuttling between aunts and friends,
working at a McDonald's in Midtown after school to pay her own way. Then she
was laid off, and temporary living arrangements ran out. Tabitha asked her
grandmother to make room for one more.
Her grandmother refused: The teenage girl could not share close quarters
with her male cousin, 17, and 14-year-old brother. Her mother did not
insist. That hurt, but Tabitha understood.
"My mother was real desperate," she explained. "She didn't want any problems
with my grandmother, because she could throw them all out." Tabitha
volunteered that she had another place to stay. Then the weeks of being
"really homeless" began.
For two nights, she rode the subways - or, as she wrote in a draft of her
college essay, "From Woodlawn to Crown Heights and then from Inwood to Far
Rockaway Beach, I sat on stone-hard train seats, thinking . . . planning . .
. what train to ride next."
On the third night, she asked Dayvon, a 20-year-old friend of two weeks'
standing, if she could stay with him. When he agreed, the "101 Ways to Say
No to Sex" - My parents are waiting up for me, I don't know you very well,
Love isn't just about sex - no longer seemed to apply.
"We girls tend to think sex is going to be the most wonderful feeling,"
Tabitha observed later. "But it hurt at first. It wasn't what I expected."
Even among the 93 percent of young women ages 15 to 24 who report that their
first sexual intercourse was voluntary, a quarter say it was unwanted,
according to a 1998 analysis of data from the National Survey of Family
Growth that suggests the "decision" to start sex is far more ambiguous than
imagined by policymakers.
Eventually Tabitha would wonder if what she had felt for Dayvon was
gratitude, love, obligation or envy. "He was in college, he had a job, he
had a life," she said. "He lived at his stepfather's - a nice home,
decorated, with couches. I never had that."
When Dayvon's mother called and found her there, Tabitha felt too
uncomfortable to stay. "It was like charity," she said.
For one night, she stayed with a church friend. The next day, she joined her
family as her mother turned to the city's Emergency Assistance Unit to apply
"Everywhere we went we had to take our belongings," Tabitha recalled of the
two weeks they shuttled between the unit and various overnight shelters
until they were found eligible. "Sometimes I'd come with my comforter to
school. Mainly, I was not making it in. I hated coming to school and seeing
all these kids with homes."
Yet as she looked around at the other homeless families, school seemed her
only escape hatch. "The E.A.U. was all black and Hispanic people," she said.
"I realized the only way I'm going to get out is education. I don't have a
singing talent. I don't rap. I act, but I'm not going to be a Broadway star.
My goal is just to be stable."
The Moment of Truth
This school year, all of Tabitha's goals hinged on her taking the SAT's on
Saturday, Nov. 1. But at the shelter, she had never received the letter
telling her where to report for the test. Her student identity card was
lost. It was Friday, Halloween, and no regular replacement I.D. would be
available until Monday.
At the last minute, Ms. McCabe, the honors program coordinator, improvised.
A few calls unearthed Tabitha's assigned place for the test. A guidance
counselor remembered the principal's Polaroid camera, which had film for one
more picture. They typed up her description and an explanation on a DeWitt
Clinton letterhead and pasted on the snapshot.
This time, it worked. "You can't put your fingers in the holes fast enough,"
Ms. McCabe said later. "Just with this one child you see how many pieces
there are - the emotional, the academic, the physical. She's not being
negligent in her behavior; it's just too much for her."
In the weeks that followed, Tabitha teetered between vulnerability and
resilience, buoyed or brought low by her relationship with Mike. At first
she stayed up late talking to him on a borrowed cellphone about her school
day, details that no one else cared to hear - like her acceptance into a
Manhattan theater youth group. But later he was always talking to someone
else when she called. He would promise to call back, then not do it.
Tabitha had grown up on a seesaw of love and rejection. Her father, now a
salesman, left when she was 4, but he had sent her presents of money over
the years. Then when she visited him the summer before high school, he
compared her unfavorably to Southern girls. Rejection from Mike seemed to
reinforce paternal disapproval.
But by mid-December, Tabitha sounded upbeat when she answered her cellphone
in the shelter. "I'm in the Shakespearean competition - Lady Macbeth," she
said, chattering on about theater excursions and new writing projects before
revealing why she was so giddy: After a monthlong disappearance, Mike was
back, and he was taking her to "The Lord of the Rings."
First, though, he took her to his apartment.
As Tabitha described the place later, it was a studio in Jamaica, Queens,
with "a leather white couch, white towels and a white comforter, a dresser
drawer, a computer, a microwave."
She had bought the birth control patch. Her tests for diseases had all been
negative, and she had made a vow to use protection. But when she suggested
he use a condom, he reacted with disdain. "He was like, 'You really know how
to ruin a moment.' I was like, 'It's not about ruining a moment, but now
that I know you're talking to someone else. . . . ' " She trailed off.
Did she stick to her vow, or give up? "I gave up," she said sadly. "I'm a
Later she remembered the funny ad she had seen on the bus: Ninety-two
percent of women carry lip protection, 10 percent carry H.I.V. protection.
Because she wasn't carrying a condom herself, she said, "I couldn't speak my
There seemed to be a politics to it, an ebb and flow of self-esteem. At one
point in her eight-month relationship with Dayvon, she herself had felt
offended when he insisted on using a condom, as though she was unclean. She
had told him, "We don't need to have sex at all," and that time they did
not. On another occasion, she had been the one to insist that Dayvon use
But with Mike, she just cared too much to insist. And after that weekend, he
dropped her anyway.
"They're just little girls," Ms. McCabe had said, reflecting on her student
mothers, in words that could apply to Tabitha as well. "There's such a need
for human contact. They try to get it where they can, and lots of times,
there's a price to pay."
Expectations, Big and Small
As Tabitha plunged into "Great Expectations," a dictionary beside her in her
shelter bunk bed, she found another framework for her feelings: the story of
the poor boy who suffers the contempt of the wealthy and beautiful, and for
the first time sees himself as "a stupid, clumsy, laboring boy."
"I identified with Pip," she said, "when he runs away and starts to cry
because he realizes his position in life."
Last month, the family was still in the shelter - one of a record 9,000
homeless families in city shelters, including 16,000 children. Her brother,
turning 16 and failing in school, was sleeping with a 28-year-old shelter
resident, a mother of three. "The worst thing in the world would be if he
gets her pregnant," Tabitha said.
Her mother did not want her to go away to college, she said. Tabitha still
longed to go, but she was uncertain whether her SAT scores - 520 verbal, 470
in math - were good enough. She was struggling with her applications. And
she still missed Mike terribly. At least, she said, she wished she knew his
At the theater group, she tried out the monologue she had chosen, from Karen
L. B. Evans's play "My Girlish Days." Stephen DiMenna, the director, was
impressed. "I thought Tabitha was this sort of quiet, shy girl," he said.
"Her monologue is stunning, and it sort of blew everybody away."
The character was Gertie, a smart, ambitious black woman relegated to
factory work after her dream of college is broken by poverty, pregnancy and
abuse. She cries out, "Why am I stuck, frozen?"
"It's like me," Tabitha said later. "What is keeping me from, like, soaring?
'Cause I just want to soar."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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