Browsing through my Twitter page I came across an ad directed at teen mothers in NYC. While seeing this ad disgusted me, I was a little relieved that I had not seen it person in my city, Brooklyn. Not only is this ad extremely offensive, it has racist, classist and sexist undertones. The ad I saw featured a beautiful brown girl with big brown eyes and read “Honestly Mom … chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” It also quoted a statistic that 90 percent of teen parents do not marry each other. Although this statistic can be shocking, it also seems to push the agenda of marriage and “nuclear” families among young people, something I wish this country would have let go of in the 1976 Reagan “Welfare Queen” era.
After further research, I discovered that this ad was part of a larger campaign created by the NYC Human Resources Administration. For an agency with the word “resources” in its name, it appears that they do not know how to use them very well. Especially considering the fact that the United States is preparing to undergo sequestration and the agency thought it wise to use government funding to disseminate disturbing, stigmatizing and shameful ads about teen mothers. Also, considering the fact they are a “Human Resources” agency, I would think funds would be better allocated to real initiatives to help young mothers, such as creating job opportunities and working with other agencies and organizations to provide childcare so that young women could support their families. It is hardly resourceful to create life-size ads that basically say, “Mom you suck for having me.”
While NYC has taken steps to improve the lives of young parents, such as closing Pregnancy Schools after advocates insisted these institutions were in violation of Title IX, this initiative seems backwards. This is the same city responsible for the Living for the Young Family through Education program which provides free childcare around the city to help teen parents graduate from high school. In addition to these efforts, the NYC Department of Education mandated Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools in 2011 to decrease the rate of teen pregnancies, HIV and STIs among young people. However, many of the youth that I work with in Brooklyn still report receiving little or no sex education, even after the mandate was placed into effect. Having grown up in Brooklyn never received formal sexual education, I know they are telling the truth.
So if you think scare tactics and shameful ads are going to work, think again. In fact it is just making the situation worse. I’m mostly concerned with who the agency talked to before creating these controversial ads. It definitely was not teen parents!! I wonder how agencies feel they can solve a problem without consulting the young people on the ground with the “situated knowledge.” As a millennial of color, I know my peers and I would like to decrease the rate of teen pregnancies, but we also feel that society has a responsibility to provide young parents with the necessary resources and opportunities to lead healthy lives.
I think these ads should be taken down, and the funding for this so-called Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Initiative should be redirected to organizations working to provide comprehensive sexual education, access to contraception, teen parenting programs, affordable childcare and job opportunities for young people. Education, inclusion and empowerment is how we solve issues, not by attaching stigma to young people—especially young women!