Since the New York City Human Resources Administration launched its “Think Being a Teen Parent Won’t Cost You?” campaign aimed at lowering the city’s teen pregnancy rates a month ago, the campaign (and its ads that are now featured at city bus stops and inside the subways) has been under fire locally and nationally. I’ve been one of those vocal opponents of the messaging of this campaign, and together with the New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice, the No Stigma! No Shame! Campaign began in response to the HRA.
This week, I happened to notice a local news report on a new phone app developed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, aimed to not only reduce the numbers of teen pregnancy in the city (which has dropped to around 30% within the past decade) but to also show teens where to go for information on birth control, condoms, and testing.
Piquing my interest, I downloaded the app to test it out. I also signed up for the HRA’s texting game by texting “NOTNOW” to 877877 to compare the two. I don’t have to tell you that the outcomes were VERY different.
Here are my observations:
The HRA’s “NOTNOW” Texting Game
There have been several reviews of the HRA’s “NOTNOW” texting game. Instead of rehashing what’s already been said, check out this great analysis done by Miriam Peréz because my thoughts and results were similar. The two teens featured in the game are “Ayana” and “Louis”. They are a young couple who find out that Ayana is pregnant.
Because the HRA’s campaign focuses on the financial aspects of teen parenting, this game is designed to get teens to think about the financial concerns of teen pregnancy and the many choices a teen would have to consider.
In the picture above, I played “Ayana”, a 16-year-old who just found out she’s pregnant. Ayana goes through a few scenarios, including concerns about weight gain morning sickness, being accepted by friends, breaking up or staying with Louis, and being able to afford maternity clothes and baby items. During my first try, I finished 7th (“Unfortunately, Ayana dropped out of school and is still living in poverty”). During my second try, I finished 3rd (“Louis and Ayana are still together but it’s hard…8 out of 10 teen dads don’t marry their child’s mother”). For my last try, I finished 8th (“Louis pays child support. In NY, you must pay child support until the kid is 21 or face losing your license & possible jail time.”)
I also played “Louis”, Ayana’s 16-year-old boyfriend. Louis also goes through a few scenarios, including being ignored by Ayana after the prom, breaking up, contemplating whether he should buy new shoes for himself or clothes for their baby, and receiving a notice regarding child support. During my first try, I finished 6th (“Louis had his driver license suspended for not paying child support! He’s applying for a work-only permit to go to work and school”). During my second try, I finished 5th (“[Without] a [d]iploma, Louis’ employment options are reduced. If he wants a decent salary, he will have to work hard & go back to school.”) For my last try, I finished 2nd (“Louis graduate H.S., but can’t afford college. He put his life on hold after graduating & spends time at work & with his child”).
After playing the game 6 times, being intentional on choosing multiple answers, here’s what I noticed:
* Teens are encouraged to call 311 for sexual health care services and contraception. That’s about it.
* There’s no mention on the HRA teen pregnancy prevention site as to what the finishing places mean, nor how many finishing places there are.
*The focus is on the financial aspects of teen pregnancy (which makes sense).
*The texting bot used to respond back to me didn’t detect that I can playing multiple games from the same cell phone. I used a Google Voice number in addition to my personal cell number, and it looks like the texting bot can detect if the same number is being used).
*It looks as though each finishing result is designed to be dismal.
Overall, I tried to be as unbiased as I could. What I can appreciate about this texting game is that there are multiple scenarios and can get teens thinking more about what they could potentially face with a pregnancy. I would like to know if this game is monitored in any way, and what all of the finishing places mean for each teen. While playing the game, I felt a sense of hopelessness. It seemed like no matter what place I finished, it wasn’t enough. Perhaps that is the goal of this game in order to get teens to think more about sex and becoming pregnant.
The Department of Health’s Teens in New York City Protection+ App
Teens in New York City Protection+ is an app designed give free advice and information to teens on where to buy birth control, get free HIV and pregnancy testing, and support from service providers based on a teen’s current location. I played around with it throughout the day, and I like what I see so far.
There are 3 sections: Where To Go allows teens to select a service, including testing, counseling, abortion, and birth control type, and enter their current location. Using the phone’s GPS location, several clinics and hospitals are listed. Clicking on one location gives teens the address, hours of operation, and services provided. Teens can also call the location, see where the location via their phone’s mapping system, email or text the information to someone, or list the location as a favorite.
The second section is What To Get, divided into birth control and condoms (both external and internal). Under Condoms, there are brief explanations of how the condoms are used, if you need to see a health care provider to get condoms, and the method protects against STIs). For Birth Control, several options are listed, including “the pill”, “shot”, and “emergency contraception”. This sections also gives brief descriptions of each method, if you need to see a health care provider to get the method, if the method protects against STIs, and you can search for which locations have those methods.
The finals section is What To Expect, where you can watch 3 short videos of different teen scenarios and the services provided at the clinics they went to. In the first video, a heterosexual couple named Ayana and Louis (sound familiar?) have unprotected sex on their 6 month anniversary. In the second video, Samantha and her boyfriend Richie (who she suspects as being “a player” due to school rumors) have been together for 5 months, but Samantha starts to develop feelings for her best friend Alisha and becomes confused.) In the final video, Jenn and her boyfriend Jonathan have unprotected sex and Jenn becomes worried when her menstrual cycle is late. At the end of each video, you also hear the actors’ take on their character’s choices.
After becoming familiar with the app, here’s what I noticed:
* When opening the app, I was greeted by this message: “Teens in NYC…have the right to sexual health services without getting permission from parents, girlfriends/boyfriends or anyone else. Whether or not you’re having sex, learn about where to go, what to get and what to expect. Confidential and free services are available. There is a lot more to staying healthy. For more info, search online for NYC Teen.”
*You can choose what’s considered a “gold star” clinic. In the Info tab, a gold star is a clinic that provides many services for free, regardless if a teen can pay for services.
*The Info tab also includes information where to go if a teen in a victim of sexual assault, or if the teen feels depressed.
*It looks like the videos in What To Expect were created between in 2011 and 2012 (I tried doing a search on the Dept’s site to see where the videos are uploaded and came up empty), which is around the time that the HRA began working on the Think Being a Teen Parent Won’t Cost You?“ campaign.
*The app is easy to navigate, and the color scheme is eye-catching. I would, however, recommend that the icons for the navigating buttons (Home, Info, and Favorites) all be highlighted without being individually pressed. (Only the Home icon is highlighted).
Overall, I like this app. My favorite part of the app is What To Expect. I feel that the videos were scripted from a place of empowerment rather than making teens feel bad about their choices. What I would like to see happen in the future is the development of a video that focuses on a teen or teen couple making the choice to be abstinent (another option for pregnancy prevention), as well as a video on a teen contemplating abortion. You can download the app for iPhone and for Android.
As you can see, there are many ways to tackle teen pregnancy prevention. It’s no secret that I prefer an approach that helps teens make choices from a knowledgeable and empowering place. It’s also a plus to let teens know that there are people out there who can assist them when they are unsure of their options (be it texting or a phone app). When I searched for NYC Teen, I found its website, and noticed the HRA’s campaign and messaging in various sections (due to the HRA and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are part of NYC.gov). It is my hope that the HRA and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene can really come together to develop a more comprehensive way to tackle teen pregnancy, rather than providing links to each’s others pages. And The No Stigma! No Shame! campaign will be watching.