Myranda Trevino is one of the latest teenage mothers to be featured on the fourth season of MTV’s popular program, 16 and Pregnant. The 17-year-old high school junior learned that she would become a mother only a short time after she started dating boyfriend, Eric.
After battling a lifetime of substance abuse, Trevino’s mother allowed her daughter to move in with Eric and his grandmother after they had only been dating for six months. In fact, in one of the opening scenes to the episode, the pair can be found spooning in bed as his grandmother folds clothes and vacantly warns, “When y’all get up out of that bed, y’all better make it up.”
This had me thinking: This can’t be life. Since when did it become acceptable for teenagers to play house under the same roof as their parents, so that essentially they have all of the privileges of being an adult and none of the responsibilities? In my opinion, this is lazy parenting. And apparently this in fact IS life where we refuse to communicate to our children the ins and outs of contraception and sexual health, but allow them to engage in sexual activity under our own roofs, sending them conflicting messages about values.
In Trevino’s case, we have a young girl from a broken home whose parents probably weren’t the most responsible people to begin with, but when other families experience a teenage pregnancy, they sometimes believe distance can be a deterrent to the teen couple’s ability to share responsibilities effectively. For this reason some parents allow the young parents to cohabitate so the baby’s life will be more cohesive since he/she will have constant access to both parents. Unfortunately, what happens more often than not is that teens see this as an excuse to play house, and act like adults in what is an unrealistic situation.
In fact, on another episode of 16 and Pregnant, a 16 year-old named Lindsey confidently tells her mom about plans to move in with boyfriend Forest after the birth of the baby only to attempt to push intimidating hospital paperwork onto her mother in the hospital after the baby is born. After her mom tells her she doesn’t understand why she has to fill out paperwork if Lindsey no longer lives with her, the young woman puts up the defense, “It’s because I’m not 18, and since I am not 18 yet, legally you guys are responsible for my bills!” All of this before she goes for a full-blown tantrum and dismisses her mom from the room with an entitled, “Shut up.” And just so we’re clear, Lindsey is anxious to move into a home where Forest’s mother insists on him not working to support his child since he has to finish school. Where was she when he was making babies? Yes, it’s television, but it’s TV that’s mirroring many households across the country.
There’s a reason that we call them minors. Most teenagers lack the life experience and discipline it takes to make major decisions, especially when it comes to sexual health and relationships. It’s a parent’s responsibility to enforce boundaries. When you allow teenagers to live as a couple under your roof where you pay bills, you’re essentially allowing them the perks of living “on their own” but off of you and with none of the responsibility. Many parents say they allow their teens to live together for one of three reasons:
1. They figure if their teens are going to be sexually active, they prefer it to be in a place that’s safe where parents can be reached if necessary.
2. The partner may be experiencing hardships at home, and the family steps in to provide safety and security, when the partner’s parents cannot.
3. The family believes that teen parents should raise a child as a family, and don’t want to have to deal with the challenges that come with raising children in separate homes.
If I’ve learned anything from being a teenager myself, and teaching sexual health to teens for the past four years, it’s this: If a teen insists on having sex, they will find a place to do so, whether it’s acceptable in your home or not. But does this mean you should open the door to said sexual activity in your home? Not in my opinion.
When I was a teenager, I definitely tested the waters of my parents’ guidelines: In a pre-Caller ID adolescence, I’d make guys call the house and let the phone ring so many times so I knew to answer. I’m sure we all had our share of sneaking boys out the back door or hooking up with boys at basement parties thrown by the friend you had whose parents were never home.
Nonetheless, I made it to adulthood with the respect of my parents intact. When it comes to sexual activity, what many teens and parents fail to understand today is that it’s all about respect.
Sex wasn’t as much of an open conversation in my upbringing as I would like it to be between me and my children, but if one thing was a priority in our household it was respect.
Call me conservative, but sex was something that I was always taught should be shared between two people in privacy. My mother always said, “If he can’t find a decent place for you to have sex that isn’t disrespectful to anyone’s space, then you probably shouldn’t be having sex with him.” Just because your children are having sex under your roof doesn’t mean they are any safer. The relationship could still be unhealthy, and unless you’re helping putting that condom on at that moment, your teen is still at risk.
Consider the message you send to other siblings when you condone this type of cohabitation in your household. You’re essentially teaching them that their space isn’t as important or worse: Having a baby equals adult privileges.
Teens aren’t seeing that the couple is living together so they can better care for the baby as a team, they’re seeing that they get to play house and sleep next to each other every night. It can also get messy for the parents when they are placed in the middle.
Teens fail to gain the ability to problem solve and work through disagreements if their parents are constantly interfering as mediators.
If you’re familiar with 16 and Pregnant’s sister show Teen Mom, you may remember Kailyn who moved in with the father of her child, Joe and his family.
Like what happens with most teens, the relationship ended and soon Kailyn was sneaking to date another guy from work, while still living with Joe and his family. Of course the family was quicker to defend Joe when the new relationship was revealed and in the end they felt betrayed and hurt by the young woman.
Everyone’s circumstances are different and every situation has to be judged individually. The good news is that from what I’ve experienced, teens who do not want to have sex won’t engage in it whether they are given the opportunity or not. If you as a parent find that for some reason the best option is to let your teen and his/her partner live in your home, it’s important to establish and enforce guidelines that work for EVERYONE in the household.
If they are raising a child, empower them and encourage their independence so that they can be prepared to live on their own and handle adult responsibilities. This may include having them pay a portion of the rent, hold a certain GPA or be employed.
As a parent it isn’t your job to always make things fun and convenient for your child, or be their friend. It’s your responsibility to prepare them to function in a world without you so they can make healthy independent decisions…under their own roof.