New York City Teen Pregnancy Ads Go Too Far

nyc teen pregnancy add

The New York City Human Resources Agency has launched a new “Think Being a Teen Parent Won’t Cost You” ad campaign directed at preventing teenage pregnancy. With a cost of $400,000, critics contend the provocative ads are too judgmental and will do little to curb teen pregnancy.

I happen to agree with them.

New York City, after all, is a model for comprehensive sex education and came under fire last year when a new high school program allowed school nurses to dispense birth control, pregnancy tests and sexual health information. The City has seen their teenage pregnancy rate drop by 27% over the past decade. With the City’s multifaceted approach working, why take such a huge step backward and start shaming young parents?

Before I had my daughter at 21, I was also a mother at 15. For nine months, I concealed my first pregnancy.  I never took a pre-natal vitamin and I never went to a doctor. No one, except the select few friends I could count on one hand, knew that I was pregnant. Not my teachers and most definitely not my parents. Why did I hide my pregnancy? Why wouldn’t I? Being a teen mother is such a welcoming experience. New York City and their ads are proof of that.  

I did not reveal my pregnancy because of the overwhelming shame I felt. For all of those folks that believe Teen Mom on MTV glorifies young motherhood, I argue the exact opposite. Rarely are the young mothers on the show not in some form of crisis and that’s despite the hefty paychecks they receive for allowing cameras to document their lives. The New York City teen pregnancy ads are in the same vain as someone believing that Teen Mom glorifies young motherhood. That somehow being a pregnant teen is something to be mocked, judged and shamed so that it never happens. And when it does happen — because shame never changes behavior or motivates — we hunker down and demand that teens should never, ever, ever have sex.

Like that’s going to happen.

I had sex once and, just like that, I was pregnant. I did lack comprehensive sex education as my parents handed me a horrifying book filled with anatomically correct cartoons that explained how babies were made. Obviously, the bad drawings distracted from the key takeaway: sex equals baby. Being a pregnant teen is hard and it’s very easy to point a finger and judge. What’s not so easy is to accept that sometimes life happens and people are dealt a crummy hand.

I’ll never forget sitting in health class already pregnant noting the irony. If the class would have happened three months earlier or if my parents would have had a real talk with me or if I had said no, let’s wait. . .

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I hope you can see that every one of those situations could have played out differently. But when they coalesce, teen pregnancy happens. And when it did, I hid it. Because somewhere along the way, I got the message that the worst thing I could ever do was be a pregnant teenager.

Which is exactly what New York City is paying far too much to do: scare, shame and judge

 What are your thoughts on these ads? 

What do you think?

New York City Teen Pregnancy Ads Go Too Far

Liz Henry is the irreverent voice behind the award-winning blog The Six Year Itch. She lives with her daughter and her partner, Slasher, in Philadelphia. That's not his real name and that's not her real hair color. Her soft middle is totally real. Liz graduated summa cum lazy with a degree in English literature, which means she knows how to write properly, but rarely does. She loves Harry Potter and Luna is her favorite. ... More

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32 comments

  1. Brenda says:

    I seen them on the ferry boat

  2. MamaCat says:

    While I see the point these ads are trying to make I don’t think shaming kids is the way to make your point. And I also feel like the burden is put on the teen mom to deal with the situation on her own because it’s true that dad often isn’t around. It’s an unfair situation to the child who deserves a stable home – and I speak as the child of teen parents who didn’t have my first until I was nearly 29 and married. I just don’t feel like the teen dads are held as responsible as the moms and these ads aren’t much better. We need to educate kids about what they face not just make them feel like bad people for making a bad decision.

  3. Shilynn says:

    they are harsh but so truthful. every where is becoming full of kids having kids and those kids are the future. no offense to anyone but alot of those kids are monsters as well because kids raising kids doesnt work. they want to be young and stupid just like they should be able to. and with shows on tv about kids having kids why practice safe sex or abstinence when you might be able to get your own tv show. our world is becoming ridiculous with what is classified as “normal” any more. i personally think these are great. it MIGHT make a difference but honestly i dont think anything will.

  4. Leah says:

    Some one needs to say the things everyone else is thinking when a teen they know gets pregnant or is having unprotected sex, someone I know has been pregnant 5 times (two babies, and currently preg) in the past 4 years, and is not yet legal to drink. “we only had sex 3 times” is what she said this most recent pregnancy.
    But hey with wic, food stamps and welfare she doesn’t have to work a day in her life. …

  5. Crystal says:

    I’m 17, almost 18, and pregnant. This ad does not bother me one bit. I was on birth control when I conceived. Luckily I have a 20 year old fiance that I have been engaged to for almost a year. He has a good job and we are both graduated. I found out I was pregnant at 4 weeks. I have been taking prenatal vitamins and going to the doctors ever since. We told his parents and mine soon after I found out. For other teenagers, this is not the case. They do not have the ability to take care of themselves and a child. A lot of them wont get the chance to finish high school or get a good job. Anything people can do to try to help even one person have safe sex or not to have sex at all could decrease the number of lives that occur from a teenager who can’t provide for them.

  6. Vanessa says:

    No offence. But if you don’t live in NY then you don’t know. I live in NY and it’s kinda nice to see these kinda ads on the subway. It might help at least some teenagers not to have sex or at least take precautions. All my friends except me were pregnant at age 16 and up. They aren’t the ones to raise their kids its there patents. They don’t finish school. They don’t work they live off the government. They don’t even stay w/the baby daddy they go ahead have more kids with other man. I see it all the time here in NY with coworkers daughters, with friends even family. Life here in NY is very different. Kids live the life of teenagers.

    My sister works in the medical field OB/GYN as a nurse and she is always telling me how young these kids are n they are pregnant when they are still so young. They think that having a baby it’s Ok no big deal. Come on its like seeing a kid having a kid. It makes me sad. I’m 28 yes old married and we are expecting our 1st baby. I’m proud of not ending up like them. No offence to anyone.

    • Leah says:

      It’d not just NY, Im from Portland Oregon and know far to many unwed/single under 18 with kids. plural. I have lived in the bay area, and there are less in the city, but in the subs its the same, 16 and going on #3, I have also lived in AZ and MI and there is the same, kids having kids and parents never get to the empty nest before they are rasining their grandkids while mum is out being a teen, and I have even seen 45 year old gransmas raising their grandkids. Im just saying it may feel a lot worse when you see so much of it, and this add is what kids see, they wont see nice and conservative hey wrap it up first or wait until he puts a ring on it adds, they need direct in their face adds even just to get their attention

  7. Elizabeth says:

    WTH!!! These are horrible! Most countries in Europe give free healthcare WITHOUT question to people… and America makes girls feel bad for making 1 bad decision… “Chances are he wont stay” REALLY?!?? Putting up on ADs that a baby is going to make you go into poverty I’m SURE is making that guy WANT to stay.. if he hadnt already thought about leaving…. Way to scare people off….. I swear.. the only thing I liked about New York was the food and Broadway.. The politicians are horrible and they make the people of that city suffer for it.. ‘Merica

  8. Sierra says:

    These ads are so sad and disgusting to me, the least they could do is find a better way to let teens know how hard pregnancy is, not just bag on it. What if they never want to have a kid because of these ads? I saw one the other day saying “I love my body, I’m not going to ruin it with a pregnancy”. REALLY? The creators of these ads should not make people feel as though pregnancy ruins a body, that’s what women bodies were made to do… so sad. They need to banish these ads immediately.

    • Vanessa says:

      It’s not disgusting it’s reality. We live in the 20th century. Kids not these day have all the info at such an early age about sex through school n parents compare to us when we went to school. But they still don’t get it. So if this wakes them up I don’t mind it. It’s true and it’s reality. I applause these types of ads. Have u ever thought that these kids at such young age have AIDS/HIV, STD’s, all these diseases. Has that cross your mind. Awareness is NOT “sad” nor “disgusting”.

      • Leah says:

        I have to say this one negative thing, if I was not married and happy and confident with my husband during pregnancy and dealing with it afterwards I would be sorely depressed. Although my child is amazing and worth the pain, I will never feel the same in my skin, and I would be terribly insecure and lack any self confidence if I didn’t know my partner loved me beyond that skin,. I was not a wait to get married person, but I did not want to have kids, after 4 years of marriage I came around to it. And I always wondered why people were so matter of fact about waiting, you don’t buy a car without test driving it, (I know ugly analogy) but to me I wanted to see who I was first before I committed to be with someone else, and I super think our mom’s moms moms taught this idea of marriage because then you can be happy you have a family at the cost of a nice set of abs with no stretch marks and perky boobs. That was really long for what I wanted to say, but im just saying teenagers are the most self conscience of all, and being able to enjoy having a nice young figure should be something to think about as well as.

  9. I dont believe ads are going to help at all. Its a big waste of money. Every teenager has the mentality that it will never happen to them. That it may just happen on to those girls you see on TV. I know personally because I was a mom at 15. I never thought it would happen to me. I am 23 and have 2 daughters now. I know by personal experience that being open with your children and letting them know that they can trust you and come to you with anything in the world that to me that is the one thing that can make the difference. Teens are so afraid to talk to their parents about anything, or their parents are just not around enough to listen. I never told my parents I was having sex because I didnt think they would do anything but yell at me. I know now that it would have helped if I had the trust of my parents and if they would have just givin me 10 minutes of their time. And it is hard being a teen mom, but I wouldnt have changed it for the world. My oldest daughter saved me and made me into the mother I am today. I love her so much.

  10. Rod says:

    If you think this is too harsh, then you don’t know NYC teens. These kids grow up faster than your middle-america teen, have poor role models, are surrounded by sexual images & advertising, and more-than-your-average peer pressure. Many of these girls think they’re proving something by getting pregnant by the boy they like or boys being “the stud” by getting a girl (or 3) pregnant. Many of them don’t do it by accident. As backwards as that sounds, it’s unfortunately the situation in NYC proper. Not Connecticut, not Ohio, not California, but inner-city NYC.

    This “shame” that you talked about might be overkill in the rest of of the US, but in NY this shame is something possibly to reverse the peer pressure of being “the stud” or being somebody’s “ho” and help them realize how they are acting… foolish and irresponsible. Of course it’s complete-complete ignorance displayed by these kids, but you should see some of these poor excuses of parents, let alone people. Is it everyone? No, not even a majority. But definitely the target demographic for this campaign.

  11. JessiLoveday says:

    This is silly. Parents need to be less uptight about sex and sexuality with their kids earlier on. And I’m not referring to the speech I got about the evil sin of premarital sex, because that speech usually doesn’t work. Also, while those ads may think they are aimed at teen pregnancy, they are really just aimed at anyone who is going through an unplanned pregnancy. I’m not married, I’m unemployed, but I’m also 22. However, I also have a loving boyfriend, his family loves me too, and they are thrilled about the baby. My boyfriend works hard to make sure we have what we need. However, according to those ads, he’s going to leave me? That’s real encouraging thanks. We aren’t married, and he didn’t finish high school (He does have his GED) we will be poor? Actually we are doing pretty well. And we are going to be supporting our baby for 20 years? Hell no, get a job. Babies are only babies for so long. I was working by 15, and I saved my money. Why can’t my baby to be get a job at 15 too? These ads may be "factual" but all they really are is making girls who are already pregnant feel inadequate.

    • Leah says:

      I think parents being open to talk to their children is also a very important role in teaching what sex is and is not and not a sin but can have negative consequences. I know for me growing up with super strict parents about sex
      ( I was allowed to have boyfriend until 15, never kissed until 16) but once Pandora’s box was open I felt so guilty I didn’t think I could talk to my parents and I thought I have to marry this guy no matter how unhappy I was with him, but then something happened that was a blessing in disguise, my parents got divorced and my moms real ideals grew and I was finally able to talk and open up about my fears and guilt and issues I was having, for me that divorce may have saved me from an unhappy marriage, but for many it could be that opening for discussion that saves them from pregnancy, abortion, abuse, guilt and not knowing what or how to do things

  12. QueenC4190 says:

    So I think these ads may be kind of good, but they’re going about it in the wrong way. Yes, they are stating the raw facts of being a teen parent, because honestly, teenagers are in the "it won’t ever happen to me" phase. But instead of making these facts come out in a harsh manner, they need to get on the same level as these teens and inform them about pregnancy. Not only can sex lead to pregnancy, it can also lead to STDs. Just being more informative with the facts instead of, how I feel, is "downing" teens if they do happen to become pregnant. Support and be informative.

  13. Anya says:

    Except for the few teens who actually notice these ads. Yeah, teens do have the "it wont happen to me’ attitude, but thats the fault of their own naivety, their parents lack of balls to give them the information they need and the fact that most kids are in fact, stupid. If they look back at the ad that once warned them and tell themselves they shouldve paid attention then it means they learned from their mistake. The ad was always there, trying to help. It’s not the ads fault kids pretended it wasnt for them. And its definitely not the ads fault if they feel dumb that they didnt pay attention: in a way, they are.

  14. LizHenry says:

    Hi Emily:

    I placed my first daughter with an adoptive family. She is an incredibly happy 16-year-old from what I can tell. So while I was technically a teen mom, I also was not.

  15. Michelle says:

    This is the problem with this ad and the people who agree with it: out of touch. It is very much out of touch with being a teenager right now. Ads won’t do anything because lets admit it, teenagers are very much "won’t happen to me" type of mentality. At least every friend of mine who did end up getting pregnant thought this way. This is not the way to show teenagers anything, and IT IS similar to ridicule because once you are a pregnant teen that’s when you start noticing these ads and by then its too late and you have everything from parents, teachers, peers and the media telling you that you will fail. Awesome. Quite frankly the best way is to educate and make it available. If you can quietly go to the school nurse and ask for birth control, not take a bus downtown and walk into a building known for pregnancy planning (don’t get me wrong, planned parenthood was what saved me but I had a car at 16. Not everyone can just drive.) Yes teenagers are naive and need to understand their actions but if you take a child psychology class in this decade, we do not fully develop an understanding of the "big picture" until the later years of teen-hood. Its sucks for parents but it needs to be as simple as getting the word out and availability to the individual, not for the parents to know or for the world to scrutinize. Instead of thinking or talking about a 16-year-old girl walking down the street with a baby "She is so young, she’s ruined her life!" how about a little encouragement? After all, the so-called "damage" is done, she had the kid. Whats the point is making her feel inferior? Scare tactics never work.Bravo for New York for their high school programs targeting teen pregnancy. Not so bravo for the ads. Its just fire for the bullies, parents and the self-guilt.

  16. SabrinaAvans says:

    The ad is not going too far. We need to show teenagers that having sex leads to children and or STDs. Teenagers should be studying and graduating high school, not dropping out of school raising a child. And that goes for these so called "franchise dads" who impregnate girls and than just disappear without a care in this world. We live in a society of teenagers having babies. I never had a kid when I was a teenager. I stayed in school,went to college and worked a great job, and had my first child at 31 (married). People we need to get kids to understand that teenagers + babies are hard work. Everything changes when you have a kid or kids. There’s no more parties or staying out at night with your friends leaving your kids with relatives when you should be taking care of your kids. Call it mean but it is the truth

  17. karen says:

    I don’t get from these ads that their aim is to invoke or cause shame. I am not sure that fact quoting will reach teenagers. They do have the mentality that it won’t happen to me. It is also a fact that fifty percent of marriages in the U S end in divorce, so even if you marry you may end up a single parent. It is very important that any pregnant woman have a support system. That is very important in successful parenting. What I feel the shame is that we tell these girls that they have ruined their lives, we tell them if they do it it will ruin their lives, and that is simply not the truth. It will make it harder for sure, but they have not failed in life. But if you are told that, you might give up without trying. When my daughter became pregnant when she was 17, my feeling were all wrapped up in how much harder she had made her life, but today she is a college graduate, in a stable marriage, and while she has her own unique set of problems, that comes with living. So many people are just ready to throw these kids away, but it’s not a all hope is gone situation. Fortunately the teen pregnancy rate is lower in the country than it has been in a long time.

  18. Marissa says:

    In my opinion, I think these ads will scare some kids away but on the majority, I don’t think it will do anything. I am 30 years old now, with an 18 month old little girl, and I have thought long and hard, already, about her becoming a teenager. And it scares the hell out of me. I know what it was like being a teen, hormones raging, the false image of love we call crushes, all that stuff. But what we all think is…it can’t happen to me. I understood what it meant…to a certain extent…what a baby meant and cost and how more than half the girls I met that had babies were never with their baby’s fathers. But what really curbed my decisions was my mother telling me…if you really want to know if he cares about you or not, make him wait. – And she said that to me when I was young. Of course I wanted to, it would be unnatural to say otherwise, but I really cared, or so i thought, about these kids and I wanted to make sure they cared too. And that held me back for a very long time.

  19. Member says:

    I don’t think these have gone too far. They are not meant to judge or shame anyone who is a teen parent. They are meant to educate teens who are not yet parents but are practicing risky behavior. Having all the facts helps one to make better, more informed decision. This is just to give teens perspective.

  20. Francesca says:

    I don’t think they’re about shame at all. I too think they’re realistic. My mom was a teenage mom in NYC. Teens may know sex=baby, but they may not realize baby=everything in the ads.

  21. Brenda says:

    My best friend got pregnant at 16 with her son. Watching her struggle through pregnancy and raising her son, scared me away from getting pregnant until I was married and stable enough to support a child. I do not think these ads would have stopped her from getting pregnant because she had the mind set that it would not happen to her, that they were being safe, etc. It did happen and life moved on. She was a teen mom and dealt with it. She made other destructive life decisions but when she got into her 20s she realized that her life was not what her son should have to deal with. She straightened out, got her legal issues taken care of, found a wonderful husband and is now raising her 13 year old and has a beautiful 2 year old daughter.

  22. Danielle says:

    I don’t think there is a problem with the ads. But maybe some tweaking to include sex=babies or the cost of a box of condoms would prove more informative. I think there is something to be said about the importance of parent/kid sex talks. My sex ed came from other fourth and fifth graders. If I had asked for birth control, my parents would have killed me before asking why I thought I needed it. I was thirty when I had my daughter and our family is pretty settled. I think if you asked a bunch of teen moms if they thought being a young mom was expensive, difficult, or stressful they would agree with married, settled, home-owning moms that it is! ! !

  23. Anya says:

    I don’t think that’s the point of those adds. I think theyre very realistic. If my boyfriend had seen those ads when he was 16 and 17 he might’ve thought twice about wanting a kid considering he’s kind of a miner when it comes to money. Also the one about teen parents not stayin together is accurate: how many babies are born or conceived in an attempt to keep a man around? Too many. The fact that you had no sex education, I thought, was your point…now kids are getting education when they walk down the street and youre saying they will feel as you did. I don’t see how. They can be ashamed when those boards remind them 5 years down the road and theyre paying child support or single that they made the decision after seeing and taking in the meaning of this sign. You said had you had information things would’ve been different and implied that you wouldnt’ve ended up getting pregnant: that’s you desicion that you would’ve made with the education. SO you can’t say the boards are too much. They are getting the info you didn’t and any choice they make after is educated..I’d think you would be wishing you had signs like this since your parents failed you in that area.

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