My Patients Are Your Children
Pediatrician Meg Meeker describes herself as “one of those bizarre people who loves teenagers.” This love is the driving force behind the physician/activist – since her early days in practice, Meeker has felt an obligation to help teens achieve their potential. In 1990, Meeker, who had been working in an inner-city hospital clinic, moved with her husband and four children (three of them girls) to a small town in northern Michigan. She thought that she was leaving behind the world of sexually transmitted disease. “I was ready for a break, working with healthy teens, in nice suburban America,” she smiles. But what she saw over the years in the pediatric practice she shares with her husband (also a pediatrician) was otherwise. Young girls, “lovely girls, my friend’s children,” with the same diseases – gonorrhea, chlamydia, and genital herpes – as inner-city youth.
Appalled, she did further research, and, to her surprise, found that there is a virtual epidemic of sexually transmitted disease among young people – a nationwide trend. And many of these diseases are incurable, cause infertility, or, like AIDS, are killers. For instance, teenage girls have a 46% chance of contracting human papillomavirus (HPV) at their first sexual encounter. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact, cannot be entirely prevented by a condom, can be treated but not cured, and is linked to 99.7% of cervical cancer. What is more, a 2001 National Institute of Health study suggests that condoms are far less effective against many diseases than the medical community thought. Why wasn’t anybody talking about this? Meeker wondered. Why weren’t parents, teachers – and teens themselves – being warned?
Thus began Meeker’s mission to speak out against what she terms a “toxic sexual culture.” As she sees it, “teens are being trained into a world of sexual activity” by a culture that promotes sex through television, movies, and media. Kids see attractive, smiling young people, partially undressed and in sexually provocative positions, advertising clothing. They watch television programs where young people are engaging in multiple sexual relationships, without concern for the health consequences. What this says to children, according to Meeker, is “come here, be like me, I have the answers.” And because adults promote such advertising and programming, Meeker believes “kids are feeling adult pressure more than peer pressure.”
Dr. Meeker began her efforts to combat the teen STD epidemic with a self-published book that she entitled Restoring the Teenage Soul: Nurturing Sound Hearts and Minds in a Confused Culture (see also teenagesouls.com). In that book, she beseeches parents to become involved and remain involved in their teen’s lives. “Kids need to be paid attention to,” Meeker states emphatically. And parents need to help their children to find reasons not to become sexually active. According to Meeker, whose own children range in age from 11 to 19, this guidance begins with teaching children respect for their bodies – a respect great enough to delay sexual activity until they are in a permanent and mutually monogamous relationship.
Meeker’s first book was followed by a second, Epidemic: How Teen Sex Is Killing Our Kids (see also LifeLine Press). But this time, she didn’t need to self-publish the book – the publisher found her first. By that time, she was a popular speaker on teen health issues, having appeared on nationally syndicated radio and television programs such as Dr. Laura and The O’Reilly Factor on FOX news. Authoring two books and speaking out publicly were a necessary first step in tackling the teen health crisis, according to Meeker. “I want to alert the nation at large that there is a public health epidemic of sexually transmitted disease amongst our youth.”
Meeker still works part-time in the pediatric practice she shares with her husband but dedicates the rest of her hours to her cause. At present, she is working on an adolescent health book for the Michigan public school system and co-writing a book for the Medical Institute for Sexual Health. Meeker also continues to speak to parent groups, medical schools, and at medical conferences. She believes that if her message is loud and clear, parents and teachers will eventually hear it and be willing to take action. Only then will there be hope of reforming the cultural “selling of sex” to teens. And only then will there be a better plan, both in schools and at home, for educating children about the considerable risks of early sexual activity.
When asked if there is any one thing that she wants people to know about her, Meeker pauses only for a moment before saying that she wants people to understand that she believes so passionately in her mission because she loves teens and feels “like a mom” to all teens. And that most of the teens she meets seem to know that her strong message is driven by this love. Anything else? “Yes,” she says. “Please say that I am not a fuddy-duddy. I am not against sex. Sex can be a beautiful experience. But it’s not for kids.”