Sunday, November 29, 2015

Crossing the Teenage Threshold

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When you're a teenager, the world is vibrant and full of opportunity. It's like there's a wall that's been in front of you for a very long time. You've always wondered what things were like on the other side of the wall. You always heard sounds of laughter and playful banter floating over it for your little ears to absorb and interpret in whatever way your young mind can. Then one day, you had grown big enough to see for yourself what was on the other end. Being a teenager means being on the fence. There are perks to being young, but there's privileges to being mature too. People begin to trust you and let you go off and do things on your own. But as you grow older, your tolerance for childishness reduces. Suddenly, your primary school going sibling is so boring you wonder how you guys ever enjoyed time together. Suddenly, everyone younger than you is a nuisance. What with all their pettiness and constant need for attention, right? You find that your concerns are bigger and more immediate than a mere snack while on your way to see a favourite auntie.

Since you've spent so much time being childish, you're now eager to do a little more adult stuff. All the things you were previously deemed too young to do are now within reach. You can stay out a little later, go off on trips with little or no supervision, drink some alcohol, and find out the extent to which your body is changing, along with the new desires you have. As a teenager, you feel like sex is on the table. Well, no, not like that. I mean that you feel you can now indulge in the hallowed activity of sex. Why? Because as you grew up, sex was shrouded in so much mystery that all it ever did to you was fill you with curiosity. You had to cover your eyes whenever a love scene was on TV. Of course, your parents/guardians wouldn't be caught dead trying to explain such things to you. They'd rather leave it to your teachers and peers at school. You were left to figure out the rest. The most they could do was say, 'Don't have sex. It's bad. Okay?' Then you asked yourself, "If it's so bad, why do the people having it seem to enjoy it?" Turns out, the main thing driving you to sex is curiosity. Until you learn that sex has so many faces.

There's a reason that the adults always said to at least 'wait until you're old enough'. Mainly it was because you needed to see the bigger picture. Sex is exciting, but it has an uncanny way of changing people's lives in ways that nothing else does. For instance, getting pregnant can change many things, especially if you're a teenager. Then it occurs to you that you're not so informed as you had thought. Sure, your pals had told you how epic it was to be sexually active. But most of that is just words. And even if there's some truth in it, luck eventually runs out when there's no method to your actions. If you don't use condoms, or any other contraceptive, there will be pregnancy. "But sex is better without the condom," they say. It is a fact, but there will be time for that at some point. You first need to stay safe and healthy. The teenage body is only beginning to modify itself for sexual activity, so it's rather unpredictable. And vulnerable. And a teenage pregnancy is nothing to smile about. The one constant is the threat to the young mother's life. Still, we make mistakes. Some heavier than others, but no need to ostracize. What I'd want our teenagers to know is that there are mistakes that can be avoided simply by postponing the activity until they know better. They say, "Never make a deal until you've listened to all the options." All it takes is to listen, and you might be saved from the dangers of your mistakes. By the way, condoms and contraceptives are not ways adults contrived to take the pleasure out of sex. Those things are meant to keep you safe from most sexually transmitted problems. And teenage pregnancy is one of them. Don't leave things to chance. Talk to someone older/more mature. A word could change the course of a teenager's life without them ever knowing it.

As the teenager can now see the green fields on the other side of the wall, they can also see the storm-clouds gather in the skies about. Naturally, they'd seek out shelter. It's not all fun and games, but just because the sun doesn't shine doesn't mean they shouldn't make the most of a grim situation. Should they insist on braving the storm, they would at least consider an umbrella or a raincoat. Or they can just wait until the weather's fine and jump about freely, without the restrictions of umbrellas and heavy raincoats. Enough analogy? Alright then, you should not have sex until you at least know about teenage pregnancy, STDs, contraceptives and the legal age of consent (I'll expound these soon).

Safety first, always.

#EndTeenagePregnancy  #Twefugge

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Shattering A Teenage Dream

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The world is exciting and scary enough for 16 year old Daisy, a teenager like many others. She’s a bag of emotions and a large appetite, both for food and for life. Filled with youthful vigour, Daisy will tackle every challenge with the same attitude. She dreams of being an accountant someday. And all that happens while she tries to find her place in this world. It’s like crossing the hallowed threshold between two worlds. She is no longer a child, and doesn’t want to be treated as such. She is not yet an adult, but she want to be respected and taken seriously. One thing that remains true is that she is not as misunderstood as she thinks. The older people that she looks up to were once teenagers, like her. She may not know it at the time, but they do understand what she’s going through. And at that time, she needs someone she can relate with, so she mostly relies on her peers. Among her relatives, she confides in her auntie, who’s not as authoritative as her mother and is much easier to talk to.

It is a tricky time for Daisy because adolescents (young people between the ages of 10-19 years) are often thought of as a healthy group. And yet, many adolescents do die prematurely due to suicide, pregnancy related complications and other illnesses that are either preventable or treatable. In addition, many serious diseases in adulthood have their roots in adolescence. For example, tobacco use, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, poor eating and exercise habits, lead to illness or premature death later in life. 

Daisy, through her friendly auntie, gets to know many of these issues and she talks about these things with her friends. Her auntie advises her to delay sex and stay in school for as long as possible. In the event that Daisy becomes sexually active, her auntie strongly recommends that she uses contraceptives, the easiest of which is to use condoms. She might be labeled as uncool by her peers as they indulge in wanton sex, alcohol and drug binges. However, resolve is not easily found in solitude when you’re young. No one wants to be left out. No one wants to be the outcast. The days of ridicule from peers are long and stressful. The mockery and calls of cowardice are too much for Daisy to bear. So, despite her knowledge, she decides to indulge without proper safety measures, in sex and other related activities. When she later discovers that she’s pregnant, she tries to hide the fact from everyone, even her beloved auntie. But the signs are too evident for her auntie to miss. 

Teenage pregnancies are mostly unwanted and occur in girls below 19 years of age. Due to the burning desire of youth and lacking knowledge on sex education and family planning, it is very common. It can cost the girls (and the boys) in terms of school, respect of the community, and financially, seeing as neither parent is financially capable of raising a child, normally. This is exactly the situation Daisy finds herself in. James, the 17 year old adolescent responsible for the pregnancy, suggests that she aborts, because he’s not ready to take care of a baby, let alone face his parents with such news. Mostly, he’s motivated by fear more than a general lack of respect for human life. He really doesn’t know any better. They both worry about dropping out of school and the death of their dreams. He is also afraid that he might be imprisoned for having sex with an underage girl. She is worried that she might get complications and disabilities resulting from difficult deliveries or experience obstructed labour that may damage her bladder. As a teenager, her body is not yet fully developed enough for childbirth, so these complications might happen to her. She’s also wary of the wrath she’ll face from her parents when they find out. Daisy contemplates suicide, running away from home, and even abortion. She’s ashamed of what she has done and the friends who once encouraged her to indulge are now mocking her for her apparent stupidity. To Daisy, the world has become a harsh place and her dreams have been shattered. If only she could find the support she so desperately needs from the people around her, she wouldn’t resort to such drastic measures. 

Weighed down by immense sadness, Daisy goes to her auntie and bares all her pain and anguish to her, as if to tell herself that telling someone at least should ease the burden. Her auntie is surprisingly supportive to Daisy, and comforts her, saying it is not the end. She accompanies Daisy as they break the news to her parents. Much as the parents are furious and say that Daisy has destroyed her own future, they still care about the health of their child. They encourage her to visit the nearest health facility for antenatal care at least 4 times during the pregnancy, while they prepare to take care of her baby.
Daisy realizes that if she had heard about family planning, she would have known better. But even as she gets to know about it after her pregnancy, she can better plan for her future. Family planning involves having (the number of) children when you want them. This avoids unplanned pregnancies and having children you are not ready to take care of. Children are our legacy, the fruit of the womb, and deserve a good chance at life. With appropriate planning, parents can be able to offer the children whatever they need to live a healthy life filled with promise and opportunity. There are different methods of family planning available for both young men/boys and women/girls. These include: condoms (both male and female), pills for women, injectables and implants for women. Daisy learns that she can apply family planning later in her life when she has settled down. For now, she needs to concentrate on making sure that she gives birth to a healthy baby. She makes sure she eats right and even goes for HIV testing. Fortunately, she’s negative so if she does everything her parents and auntie tell her, she will give birth to a healthy baby.

Eventually, Daisy safely gives birth to a baby girl. Her relatives are happy for her and are more than willing to pitch in and help Daisy care for the baby. However, her auntie reminds her that with or without help from the baby’s father, she is responsible for the livelihood of her child. While her auntie helps Daisy try and get support from him, Daisy should find a way to provide for the child. That’s when Daisy learns about income generating activities and entrepreneurship skills training. Learning how to sustain herself despite the odds boost her level of confidence and sense of purpose. Daisy finds work in a salon, where she starts to learn the essentials of running a business, in conjunction with attending entrepreneurship and financial literacy classes. She believes that eventually, she will be able to start her own business and be able to take care of her child properly. Life may have taken her along a much different path than she had imagined, but she’s confident that she’ll make it work somehow. 

Unfortunately, some girls do not get the help, advice, or support that Daisy got. There are several abortions and birth related deaths all over the country. But all these problems start somewhere. Whether it is forced or consensual, teenage pregnancy must be avoided at all costs because there’s also health implications for the young mother. There’s no substitute for either school or health, and thus they must be preserved.

#EndTeenagePregnancy  #Twefugge