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What Would a Decent Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign Look Like?

10:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Pérez for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

It feels like every time I turn around, there’s another offensive teen pregnancy or parenting ad campaign. The Candie’s Foundation, which was created by Neil Cole of the apparel company Candie’s that is popular with young girls, joined the fray with its own offensive ad campaign for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in May.

Veronica Bayetti Flores at Feministing.com broke that one down nicely. Then an ad campaign was released by the Chicago Department of Public Health featuring alarmist photos of teenage boys with photoshopped baby bumps, like this one:

While campaigns like the one launched by the Candie’s Foundation have celebrity endorsements that propel them, I’m always more disgusted to see campaigns like Chicago’s, or the one in New York City earlier this year, where public funding has been used to make them happen—public dollars that could be used in many other ways that actually might have an impact on the lives of teenagers and parents of all ages. The Chicago campaign also has the strange side effect of being transphobic, accidentally depicting what could be a pregnant transgender man.

All of these campaigns have left me to wonder if there is a teen pregnancy prevention campaign I would support. Sadly, the crux of most of these campaigns, and especially the Candie’s Foundation and New York City campaigns, isn’t actually teen pregnancy prevention—they are teen parenting prevention campaigns, which I could never get behind. I would never support an initiative that shames and defames teen parents and spreads statistics that are taken out of context and claim teen parents, especially teen mothers, will never succeed.

This response to the Candie’s Foundation campaign illustrates how statistics commonly used to defend teen parenting prevention campaigns can be distorted:
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Supporting Mothers at Any Age: How Media and Society Need to Change

10:38 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Pérez for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A mother & child.

All mothers need our support.

One thing is clear about our media conversations regarding parenting: you are never the right age to be a mother. Whether it’s alarmism about the high rates of teen pregnancy or the more recent alarmism about pregnancies and births to women who are too old, the message is clear.

The conversation on both ends frustrates me. Both rely on generalizations and assumptions about how age correlates to parenting ability and health of the pregnancy. Both conversations are tinged with a tone of judgment toward mothers regarding the decisions they make as parents. Both ignore the actual challenges that can result from pregnancy and parenting at a certain age, despite the fact that many of those challenges are ones we can actually address. Getting women to change when they decide to parent? Not likely. A more likely result is making everyone feel bad about when they choose to parent — something that does zero to improve children’s lives.

I’ve written before about what can be done to improve outcomes for teen parents — provide them the resources they need to succeed as parents, rather than putting all the resources into discouraging other teens from parenting. While there isn’t currently a government-funded campaign to discourage pregnancy and parenting over a certain age — say, 35 — it’s not out of the realm of possibility, particularly when you look at the kind of dialogue included in the recent conversations about older parents. From The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz’s piece, “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society,” you get a clear picture of the sort of dystopian future she believes we may be entering thanks to the aging of parents and the supposed rise in developmental disorders among their children.

Two things are refreshing thing about Shulevitz’s piece. One is that she also focuses on the impact the age of the father might have on the health of the child, an uncommon moment of sharing the burden of responsibility with women. The second was eloquently described by Dana Goldstein: “it’s refreshing to read about the potentially problematic breeding practices not of young, unwed single moms, but of some of the affluent, hyper-educated married couples who delay child rearing into their forties or even beyond, and who will be well into senior citizenship by the time their children are fully “launched” into the adult world.”

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Alarmist Approaches to Teen Pregnancy Trumping Efforts to Help Teen Parents Succeed

9:10 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Pérez for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A teen mother & child

Photo: Michael Swan / Flickr

Last week the latest news about teen pregnancy statistics made quiet headlines: “Teen Pregnancy Rate Drops to Lowest Ever Recorded, CDC Says.” If the rates had increased we would have likely heard more about the news, but the CDC data did in fact confirm that teen pregnancy rates have continued their steady decline across all demographic groups in the United States.

Unfortunately touting these statistics tells only one part of the story. Missing are the statistics that might actually tell us more about how teen parents are doing. I’ve written before about how the focus on teen pregnancy prevention leaves parenting teens in the dark. In addition to feeling the adverse effects of stigma-based prevention programs, many of the resources and much of the funding goes to prevent future teen pregnancies, rather than figuring out how to help current teen parents succeed.

The dropping teen pregnancy rates don’t tell us whether teen parents are surpassing the various hurdles placed in their path to staying out of poverty, getting an education, avoiding health problems. It’s worth pointing out that many of the statistics correlating teen pregnancy and poverty could be blamed on the fact that many of the teens who get pregnant are already at a higher risk for poverty and the other outcomes we see. For example, a recent study linked lower levels of pre-teen literacy with higher likelihood of becoming a teen parent. So when we hear about high school drop out rates and teen parents, there may have already been factors pre-pregnancy that increased the likelihood of not finishing high school (like lower literacy levels).

Some of the teens who get pregnant may have ended up living in poverty anyway, whether they had gotten pregnant or not. That means that resources put toward the social safety net, toward reducing poverty and  improving education for all people could also improve the lives of teen parents.

We should be focusing on allocating resources to support all parents — including teens — to ensure the best possible outcomes for their kids. Unfortunately these efforts don’t get the kind of attention (or funding) that teen pregnancy rates and prevention efforts do. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a child at a young age — the problem is the barriers erected by our society and economy that make parenting young more difficult.

The new CDC data also shows that those between the ages of 20 to 29 are also waiting longer to become parents, so it seems that there is a decline in births in all age groups, and the average age of pregnancy continues to creep up. This is likely indicative of better access to contraception as well as an economy that rewards early career building and makes entering the workforce post-parenting more challenging.

The crusade against teen pregnancy and parenting should be replaced with programs that support all parents, and make sure that our safety net doesn’t keep anyone in poverty, regardless of age or family size. Unfortunately it’s hard to counter these “teen parents are the boogeyman” narratives. They are everywhere, and very rarely questioned. Even an article in CBS news reporting on the declining rates included this quote from pop doctor Drew Pinsky:

“”We are in a woeful shape,” television’s Dr. Drew Pinsky told HealthPop in a previous article about teen pregnancy. “The strange thing about the entirety of the sexual revolution is that no one even thought this sexual revolution thing hoisted by adults was raining down on teenagers and young adults. It’s had dire, dire consequences.”"

That’s alarmism at it’s best. In actuality, poverty, racism, and stigma toward teen parents has had dire, dire consequences. Alarmism about age and pregnancy may be common, but support for real solutions to help parents succeed is harder to come by.