Talk about your teen mama drama.

The mayor of Gloucester, Mass., says there is no evidence a group of young girls entered a "pregnancy pact," intending to raise their babies together, according to The Associated Press. Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan, the lone source for the claims, was "foggy" in his memory of how he came to believe there was a pact.

"When pressed, his memory failed," said Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

It's hard to know what to believe. Why would a school principal say something like this to a reporter for Time magazine? You'd think that a principal's instinct, above all, would be to protect his students.

Worse, why would a major news magazine run with the story with so little corroboration?

Since the principal wasn't invited to a meeting with city officials on Monday, it appears that he's been thrown under the bus by the rest of the community. After all, this may be the mother of all public relations problems for Gloucester. Who wants to be known as the town with a "pregnancy pact"?

The furor over the so-called pact is the least of this community's worries. The community's focus needs to be on 18 confirmed pregnancies at the local high school, according to The Gloucester Times.

Some experts surmise that some teens with low self-esteem want to give birth so they have someone in their life to love and nurture. Others blame hit movies such as "Juno" and "Knocked Up" that glamorize young unwed mothers. Off-screen there are a number of young starlets who have given birth out of wedlock, which may give some teens the impression that our culture accepts this conduct.

How did we get to this place? A generation ago, there was profound shame about teen and out-of-wedlock births. In my mother's generation, girls who got pregnant were practically shunned by their communities. They were sent away to live with relatives or homes for unwed mothers.

Some communities, such as Gloucester, go so far as to offer an in-school child-care center, with the aim of helping the young mothers graduate from high school. Other communities have separate schools for teenage mothers. Others receive little support in their neighborhood schools.

Without support from family, a church or friends, I don't begin to understand how teenage moms would do it all. I remember feeling tired and overwhelmed after the birth of my first child, and I was 29. My husband and I had good incomes, so we weren't stressed about the cost of diapers and other baby needs and wants. I can't begin to imagine bringing a child into the world without that sense of security.

Yet I don't know how to put the genie back in the bottle. I can't think of a single upside to teenage pregnancy or out-of-wedlock births. With the former, mom forfeits her childhood. Baby gets a mother who is ill-prepared to handle such a huge responsibility. With the latter, it is far from a sure thing that both parents will be equally invested in the child. The child, who has no control over his or her circumstances, deserves better.

While we may take comfort that the "pregnancy pact" — if indeed there was one — occurred in a place far from here, Utah's teen birth rate, at the end of 2007, was up slightly for the first time in 10 years.

Utah public health officials also have tracked increases in sexually transmitted diseases. These increases mirror national numbers, trends that some researchers attribute to greater numbers of women being tested for STDs. But the numbers also speak to a lot of people having unprotected sex resulting in the spread of disease and unintended pregnancies.

What's the answer? Kids need frank, accurate information about human sexuality, pregnancy and the spread of disease. If parents and policymakers can't agree what the schools' role is in this regard, parents need to take the lead, expressing their values and expectations in the process.

I suspect that my baby-boomer generation's values about teen pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births and casual, unprotected sex are far different than those of the young actresses and singers we so often see plastered on the covers of magazines and fueling the entertainment cable television channels. We need to remind our kids of that.

Pregnancy pact or not, the real tragedy here is a generation that sees an incomplete picture of motherhood or fatherhood. It's the most important responsibility one will ever undertake. And it's best left to grown-ups.


Marjorie Cortez, who now wishes she hadn't been so charmed by the hit motion picture "Juno," is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail her at marjorie@desnews.com.