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That song shouldn't be so irresistible

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published April 6, 2005


Anyone who has heard Fantasia Barrino's catchy Baby Mama on local radio stations can't forget it.

She's scheduled to perform it on American Idol tonight at 9 on Fox (WTVT-Ch. 13).

With Barrino spelling out the title in the chorus - B-A-B-Y, M-A-M-A - the top 40 hit has that irresistible hook the music industry loves. But I can't help but wonder exactly what aspect of this song teenage girls find irresistible.

Barrino, a 20-year-old single mother, has told reporters she meant for her song to help support young women who have already become a "baby mama." She never meant to promote the lifestyle choice, and some of the song's lyrics do mention the frustrating aspects, such as a lack of child support.

But with teen moms now having their own anthem, how can it not seem glamorous to have a baby at a young age? Especially when Barrino sings: Cause now-a-days it's like a badge of honor - to be a baby mama.

A badge of honor? While I definitely believe teen mothers need to be supported, I'm not sure if they need to be saluted.

Maybe it is a badge of honor for those women who had children at a young age but bounced back to put their lives together. There are no shortage of examples in our own community and nationally, but just because they succeeded doesn't mean they think others should choose their path.

Boys born to teenage single mothers are 2.7 times as likely to end up in prison. Children of teens are more likely to leave high school without graduating and are more likely to be poor.

Even Barrino told the Associated Press, "If I could have waited, I would have."

Unfortunately, Baby Mama doesn't come with a qualifier when it's blaring out the speakers. Nor does it tell listeners that the often used term, baby mama, is a disturbing indication of the disconnect young fathers have with their new families. I don't know what ever happened to using names, but fellas, I think you should have enough respect for the mother of your child to call her by her name.

And, ladies, he has a name. He's not your baby's daddy.

On Tuesday, I spoke with Lisa Colen, a community liaison with the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County (www.healthystartcoalition.org) to try to get a better grip on how our young people are viewing pregnancy in 2005.

The complexities of teen pregnancy are many, and the solutions are not easily accessible. Many teen parents, especially those in the inner city, are the children of a long line of teenage mothers. Some see little wrong with the choice. It's all they know.

But make no mistake, teen pregnancies and teenage sex are not limited to the inner city. Colen said when she spoke to a group of eighth-grade girls in the Brandon area, eight of the 10 said they had had sex with multiple partners.

In suburbia, many teen girls are motivated by a belief that engaging in sex will make them more popular. High divorce rates and absent dads also prompt them to seek love in the arms of a boyfriend.

A 2003 youth risk behavior survey of Hillsborough County public high school students revealed that 48.3 percent have had sexual intercourse. But Colen said if you conduct an informal survey of parents, nearly all of them will say, "not my kid."

By no means am I suggesting we return to the dark ages where teenage moms cowered behind closed doors and inexplicably got shipped to some distant boarding school, but I think it's time for a wake-up call.

The most recent data indicate teen pregnancy rates have been on the decline in Hillsborough, but that the rate still remains 4 to 5 percent above the national average.

Solutions? It depends on who you ask. Some say preach abstinence, and others say pass out condoms. But when we have kids engaging in activities that often create emotional upheaval for adults, the approach needs to be multifaceted.

This Sunday at 9 a.m. on WMNF-88.5 FM, Colen, from the Healthy Start Coalition, and I will discuss the issue and some possible approaches for parents. Given teen pregnancy's impact on everything from education to poverty to health disparities, it deserves a platform with less musical nuance and more thoughtful discussion.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 6, 2005, 01:20:37]


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