Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Emily Martin. I’m a mother of two adult children. I live in East Dallas. I am employed part-time by a church as a librarian.
I always volunteered in my children’s schools, and when they were in high school I was PTA president for a couple of years. My children were involved in a Christian youth organization through their school when they were in high school. In 2006, one of the leaders of that organization asked me to help her start the same program at the high school—but for teen mothers. I agreed, and in time I found I was devoting 40 hours a week to help lead this group. I stepped back from leadership in 2014, so I am not as involved as I used to be, but I still make time to provide childcare at the summer camps that this group does with teen mothers.
What is your experience with teen pregnancy or sex education in Texas?
It is very difficult to be a teen mother. It’s very difficult to succeed and anything we can do to keep young people from getting pregnant is the Lord’s work.
I was part of a team that mentored the teen mothers. The program’s mission is to take Christ to adolescents. We did this by cultivating friendships in order to earn the right to share our faith. We believe that spiritual resources are as important to young women as anything else.
With the teen moms, we held school meetings where we’d bring in lunch and an educational speaker. We also had evening meetings with a meal, child care, some games, and a chance to talk to them about the Lord. We would coach and mentor them, mostly by developing friendships.
We also took girls and their babies to this Christian youth organization’s summer camp. Camp is a way to let the kids experience the great outdoors and to get away from the distractions at home so they can focus on their personal relationship with Christ. The girls were able to bring their babies to camp with them. That way, they could join in the fun without having to find a way to get childcare. They slept in cabins and had meals with their babies and their cabinmates and adult mentors. During the day while they were experiencing the camp, adult mentors cared for the babies. For some girls, this was the first time they’d ever left their child with anyone. The mentors and childcare workers had to earn the trust of the girls.
This Christian mentoring program is a place for teen mothers to meet other teen mothers in similar situations. They had their own community. Each cohort ended up being friends and allies. Having sympathetic and empathetic adult mentors also meant a great deal to them. It was distressing to them when adults would say things like, “You’re too young to have a baby” or “Where’s the father?” As mentors, we love these girls in a non-judgmental way. On Facebook very recently, one of the girls posted a camp photo from 2010 and it is clear that the experience was still very special to them.
I learned so much from being around those girls. It is so difficult for them to make their way as a teen mother, to provide for their baby, to try to go to high school, and try to maintain a social life. Family issues arise as well. Lots of times there are problems with the father of the baby. Getting through high school is hard enough for anyone, but getting through high school with a baby is almost insurmountable. These teen moms loved their babies and they were good mothers, but it was so very hard.
What would you want to tell those teens who were teen mothers?
Getting pregnant as a teen is not the end of the world. It’s hard, but YOU can make it. Don’t give up. Look for resources. Ask for help. Lean on the Lord.
What would you want to tell teens who are not mothers?
I think one of the most important things that young people should learn even before middle school is that they do not have to have sex. It’s better if they don’t have sex! A time and a place will come for that, but this is not it. Young people should not let anyone coerce them to have sex. Young women and young men need to set their own personal boundaries, and understand and respect other people’s boundaries as well. It’s a kindness thing. It’s a respect thing.
As a conservative Christian, I would prefer that everyone wait to have sex until they’re married. I believe there are important practical, emotional and spiritual reasons why. But as much as we want young people to delay having sex until they’re older, that doesn’t always happen. If young people choose to have sex, they need to know how to protect themselves. They need to understand what contraceptive methods are, including what’s effective and what’s not. The best way not to get pregnant is to not have sex. Abstinence is number one, but sadly that isn’t always what happens. Ideally, teens would learn all this from their families, but many kids don’t! I tried to be open with my kids. I made it clear I didn’t want them to have sex, but if they did, I told them they needed to know how to do so safely. No one wants to have those conversations with their kids. It’s even difficult for someone as involved and passionate as me. A lot of children flat out do not have a caring adult in their life who can talk through these things. That’s why accurate sex education must be taught in school.
I think it’s vital that we let young people understand what their choices and options are and not put our moralistic blinders on and say sex should only be taught at home. Because it isn’t happening at home. Kids get terrible information from all kinds of sources – their friends, the internet, social media. Sex education curriculum needs to provide age-appropriate, comprehensive, medically accurate, evidence-based information. I also think schools need to do a better job recognizing and affirming LGBTQ+ individuals. That goes with inclusivity, respect, and kindness.
Can you share a memory about a teen mother you mentored while you were involved with the program?
One of the girls that I mentored in the program, I’ll call her Mary, had a baby when she was about 17 years old, a junior in high school. When her baby was six months old, we took the two of them with us to camp. Over time, we learned that Mary had started going out with her baby’s father, whom I will call Joseph, when she was 14 and had been pregnant before. Mary’s father forced her to have an abortion. This was devastating to her. When she got pregnant again, she moved in with Joseph’s family. While we were at camp, Mary came to understand how much God loved her anyway and God didn’t hold the abortion against her. That realization of God’s unconditional love changed her life forever. Mary finished high school, she and Joseph rented a home together and they both worked. After some months, Joseph enlisted in the army and they got married. Joseph’s family came to the courthouse wedding, but the only people from Mary’s side were a couple of us mentors. Today, ten years later, Joseph is flourishing in the military. He and Joseph have a second baby and are doing so well. They’re in love, and their beautiful family is rooted in Christ.
Many of our teen mom friends went on to successful lives with good jobs and families. Still, sadly, there have been other stories that are much more difficult. Girls that were unable to break away from abusive boyfriends, families, or those who were unable to graduate and make things happen. Not everyone has a success story. And no one gets through a teen pregnancy without inordinate struggle.
And that’s why we don’t want teens to get pregnant in the first place. We all – schools, families, and the faith community — need to work together to educate young people about boundaries and consent, about respect and inclusion, and about their options for sexual health and sexual activity.