On May 1st, to mark the beginning of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, The Candie’s Foundation launched a teen-pregnancy prevention campaign that features ads with statements such as , “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not changing diapers.” The campaign partners with celebrities who are well-known in the 18 & under crowd, and has been promoted on Twitter through use of #NoTeenPreg. Initially, upon seeing the Candie’s ads, I was immediately reminded of the throes of people whose condescending comments, glares, and head shakes completely undermined my confidence and nearly purged me of any hope I had of providing my child and myself with a fulfilling future.
What I remember most about that time was how quickly I learned to walk with downcast eyes. Gone was the confident, bold version of me. The spunky me, who was always willing to accept a challenge even if I wasn’t entirely sure I was equipped to do so. The year was 1996. I was sixteen, pregnant, & learning what it was like to walk through life with a scarlet letter branded smack in the middle of my abdomen.
Looking back on my journal entries from that time, it’s clear that in the early days of my pregnancy, my attitude was still one of determination mixed with a dash of self-preserving defiance. I was going to keep my baby no matter what. It didn’t matter the odds that were stacked against us, or that my father was furious with me, or that my studies-which I was already actively neglecting- would surely take a hit. This state of certainty lasted about a week. Less than 10 days after watching that pink positive sign appear on the at-home pregnancy test, I was making an appointment to terminate the pregnancy. What was the presiding factor in this rapid change of course? Shame.
When you are a teen, innate self-assuredness only holds up so long when faced with discouragement from school personal, medical staff, family, and friends. Add to that the enormous pressure of saving face amidst widely publicized ad campaigns proclaiming that being a mother is incompatible with success and productivity, and you are left with countless young parents feeling isolated and unsupported. Teens are often bombarded with negative statistics intended to dissuade them from having a baby at a young age, but rather than focusing on pro-active strategies to prevent pregnancy, such as information about accessible family planning support, teen pregnancy ad campaigns too often focus on the many ways a teen mother has ruined her life and that of her child. For every teen who sees these ads and perhaps thinks twice about safer sex, I can assure you there is a young parent who views them as yet another self-fulfilling prophecy declaration prompting them to accept their less than ideal fate.
Yes, there are frequently cited statistics that predict a seemingly gloomy outlook for young parents and their children. But, interestingly enough, there are also studies which imply that high rates of teenage pregnancy are a feature of poverty and inequality, not necessarily the cause of it. Which means proponents of teen pregnancy prevention campaigns would be better off looking at ways to address the astounding rates of young people who are currently living in poverty, many of whom do not have access to affordable health care and family planning services. Many of who have no hopes of a higher education, because the prospect of paying for college is wildly out of reach.
And at the end of the day, when the twitter feed slows to a crawl, commentators sign off, and debates are put on hold for another time, there are young parents all across the nation who are rocking their little ones to sleep. Perhaps they are doing so with a book in one hand while attempting to catch up on their school readings. Maybe they are still in their work uniform, unable to even change clothes before transitioning into mommy mode and swooping up the little child who awaits them. They might be living with their child’s father. Or they could be bravely leaning the ropes of single-parenthood and all it entails. Regardless of their differing circumstances, I can assure you of their commonalities: They all want respect. They all want validation. And with support and encouragement, nearly all are capable of providing their children with loving homes and a promising future.
Please sign our petition. We are requesting a meeting with Mr. Neil Cole, Founder of the Candie’s Foundation. We’d like to discuss the impact of the Candie’s shaming campaign on young parents like us, and offer ways the Candie’s Foundation can shift its approaches to include: increasing comprehensive sexual education, putting a halt on shaming tactics, and using messaging that supports and empowers all young people to make the best decisions for themselves. Join the conversation on twitter using #NoTeenShame.