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Close Call

And not long ago, she thought she was pregnant.

Being 15, she has to be naïve about so many things, and really has so much further to go than she thinks she does before arriving at adulthood. She must worry about keeping up with her math homework, fitting in with her classmates and what she's packing for lunch. She probably watches too much television and spends too much time instant-messaging with her friends online.

She's had sex with a boy she knows.

After several anxious weeks, it turned out that she wasn't pregnant after all. And while that meant that there were sighs of relief all around, it's still somehow different when I see her now in her jersey, ponytail and smile. It breaks my heart, just a little.

No one that I've ever met — hands-off parent, overprotective type or otherwise — thinks it's a good idea for 15-year-old girls to be having sex. And while this girl is probably not guilty of anything other than being young and having an underdeveloped sense of judgment, I can't help but think that she's lost her way, just a little. Anybody that young, male or female, who is sexually active has to have lost their way, at least a little. How did that happen? How does it happen to so many of our young teenagers? Who was supposed to be there for this particular girl when she was making these kinds of decisions, and where were they? What did someone not give this girl that she was seeking instead from that boy? What did we all not give her? And him?

I think of what might have been. If she had been pregnant, she had decided that she was going to have an abortion, and that she wouldn't tell her mother. What's left of her innocence would have disappeared after going through the ordeal of sneaking off to an unfamiliar medical facility to end her accidental pregnancy. She would have had to live not only with that decision, but with the invisible yet solid wall that the secret would have created between her and her mother. That's a lot for a 15-year-old girl to bear.

She's not really 15 anymore. The calendar may say so, but in reality she's older now. She's faced some issues, thought some thoughts and considered some decisions that she shouldn't have had to until she'd had more time, more experience. Deep down, I think she knows it. Doing research for her book "Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers From High School Students," writer Kathleen Cushman interviewed a cross-section of high-school freshmen, seeking advice for their younger peers about making the transition to high school. Here's what one of them said: "Be prepared, just not too prepared. And don't grow up too fast, 'cause once you start hitting your teen years, sometimes you wish you were just little again."

Does this girl wish she was "just little again"? Was she, in fact, a little "too prepared"? Will she emerge from this close call with a revised sense of direction? Has she learned an extremely valuable lesson or will she feel like she can take those kinds of risks again? And what did my daughter learn by going through this with her?

It's one of those situations that come with more questions than answers. I wonder how this girl feels about herself, and how she feels about the boy involved. I wonder how it makes her feel about long-term relationships as she grows older, and what men are like. I wonder if she thinks that casual relationships are the norm.

Casual relationships are the norm in the hospital unit in Richmond where my wife works. It's an intensive care unit for premature infants, and teen mothers are commonplace. Many seem to have a casual attitude about what will be involved in raising their babies, too. Will this girl end up there, at some point down the road? Will her carefree, soccer-playing days be cut short? What can we do?

It breaks my heart, just a little. S

Tom Allen is editor of the Virginia Journal of Education and a freelance writer.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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