Tina Lopez could easily be a high school student when she walks into the classroom and sits down. She's dressed casually and she never stands at the front of the room to lecture.
But her message is a little different: She visits classrooms around the state to discuss the reality of being a single-parent mother, someone who as a teenager chose to have a child out of wedlock so "there'd be someone I could love all of my life; someone who would be mine.""I can't lie to you," Lopez tells students from ninth grade to 12th. "I'm very proud of my children, and I love them. But I wish I'd waited 10 years, or at least five."
Lopez, founder of Miss Mom Inc., a non-profit organization that allows single parents to share ideas and offer each other emotional support, started her "Just Think Twice" campaign because she believes many teenagers become pregnant deliberately, whether they realize it or not. Some of the reasons, she said, include being overweight, shy, insecure, not having close relationships with parents.
Whatever the reason, many young women choose to have babies to "fill some sort of gap" in their lives.
Now, at the invitation of teachers, she and several others are available to discuss the reality of single parenting, particularly from the perspective of the young parent. Lopez knows the territory: she had her first child when she was 18.
"We never talk about sexual relationships - do or don't - or contraceptives. Instead," she said, "we focus on our personal struggles as single parents. I tell them, `Right now, you're thinking about cars and clothes that are neat. Well, you can't have them when you have to support a family.'
"When I was 18, I was overweight and never popular. A man came along and I fell hard and fast and would have given him anything. Besides, I thought that pregnancy was something that happened to someone else," she said.
The "Just Think Twice" presentation also includes statistics: According to the 1985 Juvenile Justice Report, 35 to 46 percent of juvenile delinquents come from single-parent homes. More than 50 percent of the delinquents reported that their parents had been divorced, separated or killed. And Lopez said school officials frequently tell her that the majority of the "problem kids" come from single-parent homes.
"We also stress that boys no longer can really walk away from the responsibility, and tell them what those responsibilities can be," Lopez said. "We don't moralize and tell people not to have babies. But if they do, we want to give them an idea of what's ahead."
Teachers can contact Lopez by calling 1-259-5090 (in Moab). This fall, "Just Think Twice" will be available anywhere in the state, at no charge to the schools, as long as funds are available.