“You have no business raising a child.”
These were the words spoken to the young mother of one of my students as she was shopping for nursing pads late one night at the neighborhood grocery store.
Her milk had just come in, she was tired and achy, and she had her 1-week-old son in tow. She was 16 years old.
“I remember being stunned. That a random person would have the cruelty to call me out like that. That not one of the other mothers in that aisle stood up for me. That on some level, I believed him. I just shook my head and cried,” she recalls.
Her son, now five, is one of the top performing preschoolers in my class. His kindergarten readiness skills are on point, his vocabulary is that of a 2nd grader, and his social skills are so highly developed that I’m quite sure he’ll make a positive addition to any school he attends. I’d say his parents have done an amazing job in his upbringing so far, even if they are on the younger side.
As a former teen mother myself, I’m no stranger to the public shaming that young parents face as a result of the social stigmas surrounding teenage pregnancy and parenting. I too, faced unwelcome comments from people I barely knew. I too, began to internalize the negative messages I received in regards to my pregnancy, and my perceived inability to parent.
The shaming of teen parents is by no means a new phenomenon, although some might argue that there has been an uptick of negativity (at least in the social media world) since shows such as 16 & Pregnant, and Teen Mom have brought the issue directly into our living rooms. In addition to the questionable images of young parents portrayed in the media, young people are also likely to be subjected to dire predictions surrounding adolescent pregnancy at school assemblies, in YouTube commercials, and through largely publicized teen pregnancy prevention campaigns such as New York’s controversial ads last year.
The web of campaigns being created to prevent adolescent childbearing routinely expose youth to messages warning them of the likely ramifications for themselves and their children should a teen pregnancy occur. The premise of the majority of these campaigns is that teen pregnancies have undesirable outcomes for all those directly involved, especially the children. Consequently, young parents are portrayed as failures, and are often held up as warning to their non-parenting counterparts.
So what’s the issue?
While we would all like to see a continued reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies, we also need to be cognizant about the fact that many efforts to address these numbers are done so at the expense of young parents and their children. When we marginalize a group of people using campaigns that shame and stigmatize, it makes it that much easier to dehumanize that group through policies and institutionalized practices that prevent them from gaining access to the resources and supports they need.
We need to work together to create a culture that empowers adolescent parents through positive messages and comprehensive education. Because they deserve it.
Because their children deserve it.
And because, when all is said and done, the public shaming of young families has no business being incorperated into teen pregnancy prevention campaigns.
Join the movement:
Elevate #NOTEENSHAME on THUNDERCLAP
Follow on Tumblr