Last week I watched a video clip uploaded onto YouTube from the ‘Battle of Ideas’. The subject matter was whether policy was obsessed with teenage parenthood and why. Some respected academics and professionals were on the panel and I was looking forward to hearing the debate.
Now, I’ll warn you, it is pretty hard work to watch all of this! It’s an hour and half long and its not exactly ‘accessible’! A summary will of the main points (well, my interpretation of them!) will be on my prymface site if you’re interested. Basically, some thought we should be obsessed with teen parenthood because we owe it to young people to help them not become teen parents, some thought we shouldn’t be obsessed with teenage parenthood because it doesn’t happen that often and the issues are all around socio-economic status, rather than the parent bit. There was also a voice in the middle saying that teenage parenthood isn’t the end of world, there are positive aspects, but young parents should continue to be supported because of the way society views having children as a barrier to education. (There is also an interesting twist at 1hour 20mins but you’ll have to listen or read by prymface blog post to find out what it is!)
It was an interesting debate but I couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable watching one man and three middle-aged women sit at a table discussing teenage parenthood. They occasionally referred to their interviews but sometimes they appeared almost dismissive of young parents’ stories. One women kept talking about the danger of listening to young mothers telling their stories in a positive light - ‘redemption discourse’ - and how this should always be taken in the context of social deprivation and lack of alternative options in their lives. Personally, I hate the assumption that young parenthood can be only ok if you have nothing else going for you!
Now, I know that the 2010 Teen Pregnancy Institute conference had maybe different objectives, but watching the teen parent panel seemed like a complete contrast to the Battle of Ideas. The young mums were able to talk about their own experiences. They didn’t feel they had to ‘prove anything’ to anyone. There was no power imbalance where someone more ‘qualified’ could distort their stories or add caveats. Even though the clips shown are short, the information gained is both insightful and important; the barriers they faced, their determination to succeed, the challenge of inaccurate portrayals of ‘teenage moms’ in the media. To me, this is what the battle of ideas, lacked; a panel of young mums, as equals, who can share their own experiences, and who are actually listened to and respected.