Charita Goshay: Bristol Palin’s service reflects hard-won maturity

Charita Goshay

Bristol Palin is arguably the world’s most famous teen mother, so her willingness to use her experience to educate others about the difficulties of unexpected parenthood has merit.

The 19-year-old is an ambassador for the Candies Foundation’s new public awareness campaign to reduce teen pregnancy.

When her mother joined the Republican presidential ticket in 2008, to appease social conservatives, Palin was miscast as some kind of “Klondike Juliet” who would surely stave off embarrassment by getting married, certainly before her baby arrived.

That her relationship with 19-year-old Levi Johnston struck an iceberg comes as no surprise to people who deal with adolescents, whose emotional lives are messy enough without mixing an unplanned pregnancy, presidential politics and national media into the sauce.

Been there, doing that

Avoiding sex and unplanned parenthood is not something kids will necessarily hear when their parents preach it — Palin herself is proof of that — but the message might get through when it comes from someone who’s been there, doing that.

The overall U.S. teen birth rate has declined, but not by nearly enough. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even with birth control at their disposal, American teens still have a higher pregnancy rate than those in other Western nations.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy estimates that pregnant teens cost Ohio taxpayers $352 million in 2004, most of which went to public health care, services and welfare payments.

Pause and cause

In one public service announcement, Palin states: “It could mean pause and go get a condom, or pause and think about your life. And it could even be pause and wait for marriage.”

That may not be exactly what abstinence-only advocates want to hear, but it’s realistic for a generation that has been weaned on sexual imagery.

The new health care bill, by the way, contains $250 million in funding for abstinence-only education, which has undeniable merit — namely zero-percent pregnancy and STD rates. But it isn’t realistic to expect that every teen will consistently tamp down what is a very natural desire.

Most sane adults agree that kids have no business having sex, yet they’d rather be boiled in oil than talk to them about it, and teens can’t really be expected to apply the brakes if they don’t know how the vehicle works to begin with.

Still, if Bristol Palin can make just one teen stop and think long enough about the lifelong consequences of an irresponsible moment, her effort is worth it.

Charita Goshay writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact her at