Eleven is too young for Birth Control Pills, yet it is the age at which Portland Maine’s School Committee decided to make birth control pills available to middle school students.
Bestselling hardbacks like the Dangerous Book for Boys and the Daring Book for Girls attest to the coddled nature of today’s child. Children are strapped in booster seats until they are twelve years old or 80 pounds, whichever comes first. They must wear bicycle helmets to pedal around the neighborhood. It is almost impossible to find an old-fashioned jungle gym at a playground. A typical suburban mother panics if her ten-year-old child walks out of sight down the street. In the morning, at school bus stops all over the country the cars pull up and idle while the children wait at the stop for the bus. When the bus comes and the children get on the parents drive off. In the afternoon, children leave school and go to after-school daycare facilities where they are watched by lackadaisical activity leaders until their parents come to pick them up. Parents watch their children as if each one was a Faberge egg, fragile and inclined to break tragically.
Why does it seem wrong that an eleven year old might be driven home from the school bus in a car seat, birth control pills hidden from her mother in her backpack? Then she is told to play without leaving sight of the house. When she breaks a sweat she invites a boy she’s been playing with into the house and her mother invites her and the boy to play a video game together. They go up into her room and start putting the sex ed manuals the school nurse gave them to use. It seems to me that something is wrong. But not to the Portland mentality, for lack of a better label.
The nurse who gave her the Pill, after all, didn’t want to discourage a “young woman” too much from her healthy, natural sexuality, or expose her to embarrassment from her parents paying too much of the “wrong” kind of attention to her. And starting to have sex before puberty is no better or worse than waiting until marriage. Both are unusual, therefore equivalent in the Portland moral universe.
In another place, a liberal mother sends her nine year old son out into the streets of New York City to ride the subway and go exploring, without a cell phone. It will toughen him up. And she doesn’t want to risk losing a cell phone. It’s all good. Or not.
How did this happen? What is appropriate for kids? What is good for kids? Is it what they are getting now?
Instead of having birthday parties in the back yard with a $10 Slip-n-Slide and a home-baked birthday cake, kids are ushered to Chuck E. Cheese for overpriced pizza and video games. Compared to twenty, forty, or sixty years ago, this is an absurd change. Children even twenty years ago, when statistics concerning child abduction were identical to the statistics today, rode their bikes all over the neighborhood, to baseball games and what have you, bicycled or walked a couple of miles to school, or took a bus on their own, never carrying cell phones or calling home, and all without bicycle helmets on their heads. They were expected to come home when they got scraped up or bruised, but then would go back out to the stickball, kickball, or baseball game, kick the can, hide and go seek, red light green light, or a so serious circumambulation through the neighborhood.
A boy might have getten into a fight with another boy over a girl, an insult, or some other reason. These things happened. For teenagers, there might be a stolen kiss on the front porch before evening turned into night. But not for pre-teens, who still believed in the power of cooties. More than that was impossible, for privacy was not something that kids had.
Nowadays, that is almost all gone. The most physical activity that many kids engage in is Wii Boxing, or Dance Dance Revolution. Who sees pick-up baseball games in an open lot near their home? Stickball, kickball, or kick the can? There is some bicycle riding, but ATV and 4-wheeler riding by 7 year olds is nearly as common as bicycling.
Instead, kids are inside playing video games. When they play with other kids they are on the console, or on the computer, or two steps away, playing in their rooms. This opens a lot more space for mischief, because it is private.
School is also full of all sorts of age inappropriate developments. Pre-schoolers as young as three are taught to read and spell words, to be ready for kindergarten where they learn what kids used to learn in first grade, so they can be ready for first grade where they will be trained to take the standardized tests. When I went to kindergarten the most important things I learned were, in order: 1) where the bathroom was and how to use a bathroom that had a dozen other boys in it; 2) how to play and get along with other kids; 3) how to pretend I was asleep during nap time so I didn’t get in trouble from Mrs. Eyeball. I didn’t learn to read in Kindergarten. I didn’t even know most of my letters. But I did learn to play with others, which has been useful in my life. I learned to read late by today’s standards, in the summer between Kindergarten and First Grade, rather than at the age of three. I don’t think my vocabulary suffered for it. Elementary students, who are at an age where they can easily memorize vast reams of information, are spoonfed the same information again and again. They never learn history, languages, facts, mathematical tables, or memorize poems or real literature. They are instead asked to explain and expand upon what they have already learned, which discourages many, and to practice for tests, which discourages the rest.
When kids become teenagers, on the other hand, their minds turn first to thoughts of arguing and persuading (and sex too, but even the most unattractive, lovelorn teens manage to argue). Yet the schools at this age try to fill their minds with history, facts, and languages they could have absorbed, spongelike, when they were young. Schools crush their argumentative spirit instead of harnessing and training it. On the other hand, the most sexually attractive students in the school, both football players and cheerleaders, are appointed by the adults at the school as a pseudo-nobility reigning over the rest of the student body. The Homecoming King and Queen, and their Court, are named well indeed. This sexualizes power relationships in the school, generates peer pressure to be sexually reckless, and distracts students from learning, which is supposed to be the purpose of school.
The sexual activity and pressure exists without a word of warning from the adults at school that underage sex is a crime in many places, that it has many dangers including diseases and mental illness, that birth control pills can fail, that the backup plan of abortion is immoral for obvious reasons, and that children (who are the biological and divine justification for sex) deserve to be raised by married, adult parents, not by unmarried adolescents who still live with their parents.
What does it all mean? Well one thing I know for sure, is that eleven is too young to be taking birth control pills, and too young to have a reason to take them.
This article was originally published April 4, 2008.