Monday, March 18, 2013

Let's Stop Shaming Teen Parents

In our current societal structure, there is a gap between the typical age of first sexual activity and the age of financial and emotion stability that is considered ideal for beginning a family. What's the solution?

The New York Human Resources Administration appears to have decided recently that the answer was to unleash a campaign of shame against teen parents. If you are not already aware of the controversy surrounding the advertisements in New York, I invite you to check out the following articles:
  1. NYC Teen Pregnancy Campaign Brings Shaming to Bus Shelters and Cell Phone
  2. New York City Tries to Shame Its Teens Into Not Having Babies
  3. Activists Launch Campaign Against NYC’s Teen Pregnancy Ads
  4. An Update on NYCHRA's Teen Mom Shaming
This seems like an appropriate time to step back and get some perspective. Teen parents encounter a great deal of judgment and stereotyping. Are the dire predictions for teen parents and their children accurate?
[Gretchen] Sisson, who wrote “Finding a Way to Offer Something More: Reframing Teen Pregnancy Prevention,” in the Journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy, says that, in most cases, teen mothers do better than do their peers who are not mothers. Sisson’s research shows that among young women who drop out of high school, teen mothers are more likely to complete their GEDs. And in their twenties, they spend more time in the work force than do their peers who are not mothers. -- Avital Norman Nathman, Teen Motherhood: When “Reality TV” Doesn’t Fully Reflect Reality, January 1, 2013
And by their 30s? Sisson finds the former teen moms are "a bit ahead of their peers in terms of earning."

At, a blog co-authored by teen parents from around the United States and elsewhere, I read the following: 
We know the stereotypes and prejudices that teen parents have to face — but we also know the truth. We know that teen parents can be capable caregivers and fabulous role models for their children. We know that, with support, they can achieve academically and professionally. We know young families can be successful.
Note that key phrase: with support!

Teen parents need support, not shame.

This week on twitter teen parents are offering up something to the rest of us: their stories and their wisdom. If you are on twitter, follow @MATeenPregnancy or the hashtag #TPTT (Teen Parent Twitter Takeover) to learn more.

David Castillo Dominici


  1. Wow! thank you for sharing this most unnerving and deeply repulsive story. I had no idea this kind of myopic waste of time and money to abuse young mothers was STILL going on in such a public way. I'm sure the adoption agencies are giddy with anticipation for how many infants they can gain to market due to shaming innocent loving mothers who happen to be young and IN NEED OF SUPPORT. I'd usually write more but this atrocity has rendered me speechless.

  2. I appreciate your thoughts. But you're a mother of two girls. When they get to the stage where they could get pregnant, what will your message be to them? I am a mother of three, one a teenage girl. We talk openly about birth control and she knows I think it would be better for her *not* to get pregnant until she is a stable and loving partnership and has finished her education. When I say "it would be better", am I "shaming" teen parents? The goal of the NY campaign is about preventing teenage pregnancy. Is this not a goal you share? Surely fewer unplanned pregnancies means fewer questionable adoptions?

  3. Thank you for you comment. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. I'm absolutely in favor of preventing unplanned pregnancy. It's the method of this campaign that I question, not its intention. Shame was not an effective (or kind) strategy in the 1960s when I was conceived by teenage parents, and it is not the answer now. One of the criticisms that has been raised about this campaign is that it actually provides very little useful information about pregnancy prevention. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to click through to Miriam Perez's article about the campaign:

  4. I would also like to point out that organizations such as the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy work to both
    prevent teen pregnancy and to reduce the stigma against teen parents. The two
    goals do not exclude or conflict with one another.

  5. Ooh .... just found this: This young mom blogger hits the nail on the head, imho: "Teenage pregnancy is an important issue that does need attention. I have given presentations at my local high school about the issue, sharing my experience in hopes that maybe I prevent just one young girl from becoming a mother too soon. But as essential as it is to prevent future pregnancies from occurring, it is equally important to foster the growth and success of teen parents and the children that they already have. We should not be stereotyping them; we should not be shaming them. We should be supporting them and their dreams, every step of the way."

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