New York City Teen Pregnancy Ads Go Too Far
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. . .
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?