It’s a fine line I walk here on the site. Some have accused me of promoting teen pregnancy and that’s not the case. I support mothers, women who are somewhere on path of peeing on the pregnancy test, visiting their doctor, surviving 10 months of gestation and graduating into the throes of motherhood. We’re way past teen pregnancy once you land on my site. We’re into parenting.
A recent NYC teen pregnancy prevention campaign caught my eye and the eye of several other young mothers I know.
How nice. So while young mothers are out and about, walking down the street, catching the bus and minding their business, they get assaulted with something like this. There are more ads like this (some directed at the dads) at bus shelters and subways citywide.
But what really got me was the “Text ‘ NOTNOW ’ to 877877 for the real cost of teen pregnancy” at the bottom of each ad. I decided to play along and signed up to receive the texts. I was expecting something more concrete and useful.
Instead I got this:
I just don’t get it. I understand that 16-year-olds care about things like prom and what their friends think but does this effectively prevent teen pregnancy? The city already has the No Kidding program, where teen parents go into high schools to talk about their lives and to help teens understand what it’s like to be a teen parent, so why did they decide to go this route?
What bothers me most about this (and all the folks who believe that teen parents don’t deserve support) is that it effectively shuts teen parents out from being successful. And what happens when teen parents aren’t successful? Their kids suffer and it becomes a cycle.
If you work with a teen mother, make her feel she’s still worthy of encouragement and —gasp!— praise, that changes things. It changes how she sees herself and whether she thinks she can accomplish the goals she’s set for herself. Treat her like crap and she begins to internalize it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ll write about my school work and I’ll get three emails from moms who say they believe they can go back to school because they’ve seen someone do it, they know it’s possible.
One thing I tell teen parents when they come to me for advice is that you won’t be _____ (fill in the blank age here) forever. You won’t be 16 forever. You won’t be 18 forever. Kids grow up, you get smarter and tough times don’t last always, especially if you’re working as hard as you can to improve your life. I had no idea that I’d be a homeowner by 23 and be walking across the stage to get my Master’s at 27 when I stared down the pregnancy test. Yes, it’s hard being a teen parent but shit, it’s hard being a parent in this country period. No one can do it alone and no one should have to.
Plus, teen pregnancy is more than a matter of “you need to keep your legs closed and pants on your waist.” There’s more to it than just “fast ass girls” and boys who only want to hit it and bounce. There’s a number of factors that make this discussion much more complicated than an ad in the subway can even begin to address. Take a look at the Adverse Childhood Experiences study from the Crittenton Foundation and see what percentage of the young mothers they serve have suffered from alcoholic parents and physical abuse
Teen parents are people too. They are parents. And they deserve that respect. Miss me with that “they should have thought about that before they got pregnant.” Because what’s the alternative? Are we really saying that we want those statistics to be true? Do we want to watch teen parents struggle, generation after generation? How is that good for our communities, for those children who didn’t ask to be here?
We miss out on the bigger picture when we paint teen parents are failures before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves. If you’re a teen parent reading this, please know that *I* believe in you.