This week I depart from the usual frivolity in order to underscore a growing concern in our community. I promise to return to senseless drivel again next week.

In the movie “True Lies”, Arnold Schwarznegger laments the waywardness of his daughter as he tenderly comments “I vould like to sqvish her little head between my pumped up biceps”. He goes on to admit frustration with the competition for parenting the girl between himself, MTV, her peers and rock stars. He finally resorts to doing the fatherly thing that all we fatherlies have been doing for years. He goes on to destroy organized crime, a terrorist nuclear arsenal and the Public School Teachers Federation in order to win her affection and the right to parent her.

Recently a high school class in my town was faced with the statement, “Abstinence is the only real safe sex, agree or disagree”. When 39 out of 40 students disagreed, the “teacher”, rather than using this opportunity to discuss the importance of abstinence, proceeded to instead demonstrate how to use a condom in order to have “safe sex”. A brief discussion of how these protect against STD’s and pregnancies no doubt left the class confident and prepared to put it to the test.

Last week, Mary, age 15, was inconsolable as I tried to explain that those awful, painful genital sores were Herpes. She will, unfortunately, have to battle this for the rest of her life. She was the third teenager of the week I had seen with Herpes. Realizing the lifelong sentence of these infections, the young girl responded between sobs, “But I used condoms and…” Condoms, even when they work, often do not protect against the skin-to-skin diseases like Herpes and genital warts. In addition, condoms do break, fall off and are often in the nervous hands of nervous kids (at nervous times) who, though they flirt with parenthood, have yet to qualify for a drivers license. Broken or slipped condoms, of course, permit transmission of Chlamydia, HIV, gonorrhea and premature enrollment in Lamaze classes. I emphasize, however, that even the best condoms do not necessarily prevent the transmission of other painful and debilitating STD’s. Should we be only encouraging the use of condoms or should we be primarliy encouraging the use of abstinence?

I lend my voice to an ever increasing group of doctors who advocate the emphasis being put on abstinence. They are discouraged at seeing their communities’ teenage girls file into the office for morning after pills, STD checks and pregnancy tests. Sometimes they come in twos, threes or fours, all wishing the same tests as they’d been at the same party. It’s uncertain excitement for them as they titter and joke while waiting for the test results. Then the oft devastating news. I, like Arnold, wonder how these kids stand a chance given that the value systems in their lives are established by the likes of Jerry Springer, Marilyn Manson and Bud Bundy. What’s a kid to do when guidelines for life are determined by the misdirection of Hollywood, misguided direction of many schools and the often wrong direction of friends. But it is the unnecessary lack of direction of many parents, the abrogation of teaching responsibility, that is the single greatest concern. The missing moral compass in some kids’ lives is apparent as one teen revealed to me, “The sum of the counsel my Dad ever gave me was to score a goal, wear a condom and don’t pick up hitchhikers.” No effort to teach the kids the importance of living principle based lives, whatever those principles may be.

“But Doctor, the kids will do their own thing no matter what we tell them”.

“Ah yes grasshopper, but as the twig is bent the tree will grow.” Unfortunately too many twigs are growing on barren ground, nurtured without fibre and bereft of nourishing principle. Without strong moral fibre the twig is tossed to and fro until it ends up in the doctor’s office. Time and again we sit across a room, staring at the product of a lifetime of neglected parental counsel, the consequence of one raised with a lack of principles. Time and again we try to deal with the failed attempts of youth trying desperately to grow up in a hurry and be like their TV icons. Time and again we sympathize with pregnant teens as they anguish over the future of their babe, and that of their own. Principle based living instruction should be initiated by the parents while children are young, but must further be reinforced and fortified as they enter teenagedom. Failure to do so ensures Mary… will not be alone.

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