The Nation's Pulse

Gloucester’s Shame

A perfect storm of social liberalism is blowing through this Massachusetts town.

By 6.26.08

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Stories about a precipitous rise in numbers of pregnant high school girls seldom make news -- not even page 28 on a slow news day -- that is unless the rise occurs in a picturesque blue-collar fishing town on Boston's North Shore, once the idyllic setting for the film The Perfect Storm.

The movie title is ironic, for there does seem to have been a perfect storm of parental negligence, wrong-headed do-gooderism, and a lack of shame, all of which came together to make national headlines this month.

No doubt you've heard about the 17 teenage girls from a Massachusetts high school who entered a pact to get pregnant so they could give birth at the same time. Then, presumably, they would drop out of school and, when they turned 16, get waitressing jobs at Hooters and move into a trailer court with the local drug-dealer, someone who would give them the love their lives had been lacking.

But it turns out these 17 were in no way unique. The local paper reports that the high school's day care center (that's right, high school day care center) is already filled to capacity.

No wonder. The day after the story broke The Today Show featured a local Gloucester girl who told Merideth Vieira that her 15-year-old girlfriends "would say stuff like, oh, I think my parents would be fine with it and they would help me, stuff like that."

Why not? Parents are so hip these days that nothing makes them lose their cool. Except dinner being late or somebody smoking their last ounce of grass. But our 15-year-old daughter gets pregnant by "a 24-year-old homeless guy," and we are totally cool with it.

SOMEHOW I DOUBT it was love these kids were lacking so much as responsible parenting. As we know, old fashioned parenting pretty much disappeared with the Baby Boomers. You can't expect 40-somethings who have never grown up to behave like parents, can you?

Instead Boomers sought to become buddies with their kids, which was the last thing the kids needed, or wanted. They, after all, had their own friends who were a lot younger and a lot cooler. And weren't parents supposed to set boundaries and lay down rules, not throw keg parties for Sweet Little Sixteen?

So of course the old man and the old lady would be cool with their 15-year-old coming home pregnant. They would be cool with their 15-year-old doing anything, no matter how shameless.

ABC News interviewed a second teen mom who supposed the girls may have been motivated to get pregnant because "they see all the girls doing it, and they see the attention they get."

I'm not even all that old, but in my day a pregnant 15-year-old would get attention all right. Fortunately common sense and common decency kept most girls from doing stupid things that messed up the rest of their and their children's lives.

But today we've traded common decency and shame for the Glouster High School Day Care Center. (By the way, shame hasn't completely disappeared, just changed. To be immoral today is to be caught smoking in public, eating a ribeye, wearing fur, driving an SUV, or failing to recycle.)

Sociologists point out that shame and other social sanctions were once an effective way of keeping people from behaving like animals, because behaving like animals is our natural state, and it is only "the social good of feeling bad" that keeps us civilized.

Shame kept most men (and women) from leaving their families or becoming drunkards or addicts, it kept teenage girls from getting pregnant or VD, and it kept men and women from cheating on their spouses. In other words, it helped keep the nuclear family intact.

The days of social sanctions are over (at least until Islam becomes the dominant religion in the West) and moral ostracism is today regarded as barbaric (and it was when used to ostracize and punish bastard children who were found guilty through no fault of their own).

The libertarian in me shrugs and says live and let live, as long as the government doesn't use my tax money to support any one's self-destructive lifestyle. But at what point does the libertarian look around at the dystopian state of society and say, my God, people are behaving like mad dogs? Something needs to be done?

Christopher Orlet is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.

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Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.