There are no video cameras following Destiny Mankowski and her boyfriend Jacob McDonald around, and you won’t see Karla Bock’s face plastered on a tabloid in the stands.
No soundtrack or voice-overs showcasing the hardships they have faced after becoming pregnant at 17. No, their lives are nothing like those depicted on MTV’s glamorized “Sixteen and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” but the challenges the three area teens featured in the Dispatch’s Sunday story, and many other teen parents face, remain very real.
“I definitely think those shows do not at all depict what it’s really like to be a teen mom,” said Mankowski, who gave birth to her daughter, Violet, 3 1/2 months ago. “And really, I don’t understand the people who get pregnant to get on those shows.
“I think those shows shouldn’t exist because it makes people to want to get pregnant at a young age for the fame and glory.”
Mankowski said she heard rumors that getting pregnant for the glamorized life MTV can provide is exactly what some area teens did, although she couldn’t be certain.
Rumors around the area spread that upward of 40 teens became pregnant this year. Rumors that Brainerd High School (BHS) Principal Andrea Rusk quickly dispelled.
“The number on the streets is that there are 30 or even up in to 40 teens from BHS pregnant this year and that is just not true,” said Rusk. “In seven years I’ve been here (BHS) I’ve never had a year like this one, so it was different with seven reported pregnancies. But again, girl’s don’t have to report and they don’t have to come and use our health care services and nurses that are available to provide support and education to our students.
“I think the biggest thing that influenced people’s perception of the amount of teen pregnancies this year, is that a lot of them chose to stay in high school instead of attending our Area Education Center (AEC).”
Minnesota’s teen birth rate has declined in recent years, with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reporting a 19 percent drop between 2007 and 2010, making Minnesota the eighth lowest in the nation. But while improvements in teen pregnancy rates are seen statewide, Crow Wing County maintained a higher teen birth rate than both the state and nationwide benchmark in a 2011 report, with 35 per 1,000 female population between the ages of 15-19. Minnesota’s average is 27 per 1,000 while the nationwide benchmark is 22 per 1,000. With the reported seven at BHS and an additional 18 at AEC, this year’s total was 25.
“We do have a lot of pregnant girl’s here (in Brainerd and surrounding areas),” said 20-year-old Bock, who gave birth to her son Robert when she was just shy of 17-years-old and recently graduated. “My feelings are that Brainerd really doesn’t have a whole lot for teens to do, so they find their own entertainment between pot, drinking and sex, so yeah, there are a lot of pregnancies.
“Teens here use those things to pass the time quite a bit.”
But the question still remains: Why are there so many teen pregnancies?
“I would love to understand why some of these girl’s don’t think of the precaution’s before becoming sexually active,” said AEC Principal Jessica Haapajoki, who said that AEC offers a day care along with mommy and daddy classes for expecting parents. “I think that the majority of these pregnancies are accidents. Does the media play a role? I am sure, but really I think the main situation is that these are young girls and boys who made a decision to become sexually active and found themselves in a situation that they now have to face.
“But we hope here (at AEC) we can help them through some of those steps so they do stay on course with graduation.”
Rusk agrees while a health course is required to graduate, teaching everything from abstinence to pregnancy and healthy lifestyle choices, she is happy BHS offers teens who become pregnant help to remain on track.
“We try to provide support through our guidance counselors and we will check in with them to see how they are progressing and attending school regularly and have the support to stay in school,” said Rusk, “which we highly encourage them (teen moms) to do.
“One of the things we have to remember is that they have a right to be here and everyday they are here is a day closer to reaching that goal of graduating.”
And both Bock and Mankowski hope their reality helps teens learn from their situations.
“I’d say if you’re sexually active, make sure you’re on birth control and using condoms correctly,” said Bock.
Mankowski agreed, saying she hopes to use her own experience to especially pass along words of wisdom to her daughter when she reaches her teens.
“I’m going to tell her to wait obviously,” she said. “But if she does get into that situation, I can’t be hypocritical and tell her she shouldn’t be having sex or I don’t understand why you did, because obviously I do. I did it. But I want her to be protected.
“I guess the protective part is part of being a mom.”