When it comes to preventing teen pregnancy, no one has a perfect universal solution. If there was a simple formula agreed upon by all decision-makers, teen pregnancy would not be the center of our conversations today, the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. We kick off the day by acknowledging that teen pregnancy rates in our state of Massachusetts, and in the United States as a whole, has reached record low in decades. Contrary to the belief of those who still think teen pregnancy is becoming an increasing “epidemic” across the nation, teens are both delaying sexual activity until later years and having safer sex. The round of applause goes to our youth for making these positive changes in their lives.
Over the past few decades, teen pregnancy (formerly the only type of pregnancy) has been determined to be an issue associated with negative outcomes in our culture. The link between teen parenthood and poverty is one we constantly read in articles and posts along with poor quality of life for both mother and child. Behind the shaming, judgment and bitterness, I see the positive intention: Americans want to see the youth in our society leading positive, productive, and successful lives. Whether we are parents or not, we want to know that all young people have equal opportunity for authentic growth. Thanks to the phenomenal organizations, agencies, programs, and sexual health superheroes who make sexual education and access to reproductive planning a priority, we can collectively continue to implement prevention strategies that work and disseminate knowledge to our young people.
During this journey, we must not forget to examine the lives of these teen parents prior to becoming teen parents. Prevention is more than handing out a condom or telling teens how to put one on. It’s more than trying to use teen parents’ lives as a scare tactic. We know the stereotypes and we know what teen parents are called and we know it’s beyond the bitter concept of eliminating deadbeat dads and baby mommas from the streets. It’s a time to address the injustices young people face in their communities and the lack of education they receive about the issues that directly affect their lives. It’s a conversation and an opportunity to educate young people – both girls and boys – about the difficult decisions we make in life, the inequities our communities face, and the resources and support available to them along the way. Support, not stigma.