(Pictured above: Briana DeJesus, one of the cast members of MTV’s 16 & Pregnant)
May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and while organizations, programs, and governmental entities are spending millions of dollars and much of their time trying to prevent teenage pregnancy, young people who are already pregnant and have chosen to carry to term continue to experience stigma. Many young mothers, especially young moms of color, can face increasing difficult societal problems such as poverty, lack of educational opportunities, unequal access to quality health care, age discrimination, and lack of support for their new role as mothers.
Is becoming a parent as an adult easier than becoming a parent as a teenager? Well…I’m sure we have all think of at least one adult who became a parent as an adult, yet who are just as incapable of taking care of a human life as we make young parents out to be.
Is it easier to be a teenager without having to deal with parenting a child? It was for me. As a teenager, I thought about the many things that I believed parenting a child at a young age would keep me from doing (college, a great job, travel, etc.) But we are increasingly seeing many young mothers who, despite the odds, are surviving, their children are healthy, and they are surrounded by people who support them.
Are we inadvertently allowing stigma and shame to frame how we respond to teen pregnancy? Yes. In New York City and in other cities nationally, “pregnancy schools” were created in an attempt to shield young pregnant high school students from the stigma associated with teen pregnancy, with many of them closing due to lack of success.
Can stigma and shock value lessen the number of teen pregnancies? Sure. I mean, it’s been working for the anti-smoking campaigns and obesity advertisements that have been popping up in recent months. But it doesn’t always work. Just look at how the government continues to give millions of money to abstinence-until-marriage programs that continue to be proven ineffective.
So, what can we do to lift up and support teen mothers?
We need to do what we can to make sure that young women know all of their options, and if becoming a mother is the best option they make for themselves, then we have to support them in that. It may not be easy, but seeking out supportive services together is a heck of a lot better than lecturing a young woman on birth control, condoms, and abstinence AFTER she’s already received a positive pregnancy test.
We need to develop more programming, services, and innovative strategies that help young women who are already mothers or expecting mothers. And they need the funding to match. Organizations such as Insight Teen Parent Program, Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, The Generations Program , New Moms, Planned Parenthood, Healthy Teen Network, Strong Families, and FamilyWorks are doing a lot of amazing work for teen parents. (We also need to provide just as much support to young fathers as well.)
Most importantly, we need to find a way to lift the stigma associated with becoming a teen parent. With ample support, resources, positive adult involvement, and peer education, young parents can do what they need to do for the betterment of themselves and their children. Instead of shaming and blaming pregnant teens and teen mothers, let’s focus on making sure they get to their prenatal appointments, help them buy baby supplies, and even accompanying them to parenting classes.
Are we better off becoming parents when we feel we are ready (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.)? Yeah. Is it easier for girls to not have to worry about all of this in their teen years? Of course. I’m not advocating that everybody run out and become a teen parent. What I’m advocating for is compassion and accountability. The support that teen mothers can receive can make the difference between a teen mother that beats the odds stacked against her and a teen mother who doesn’t succeed.