“Mom, You Suck for Having Me”–New York Disparages Teen Parents

tp_poster_3Browsing 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.

tp_poster_2After 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.”

tp_poster_1While 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.

tp_poster_4So 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!

Republished with permission from Brittany Brathwaite, activist with Advocates for Youth’s Young Women of Color Leadership Council, at Amplify: a project from Advocates for Youth


  1. Julia Durant says:

    There’s so much wrong with these ads. If anything all they’re doing is re enforcing the idea that abortion and adoption are the way to go. I’m pro choice but what these ads should really be teaching teens is that sex if you’re having it at that age needs to be protected sex. Or at least there should be some dialogue about being abstinent The images and messages associated with the ads themselves aren’t helping the issue. If anything they just further solidify how teens will be punished for their actions regardless or if the pregnancy is accidental or not. Also, the idea that some of the ads push for marriage at a young age. Why wasn’t there a statistic about divorce rates in the country? I understand wanted to discourage teen pregnancy but the points raised to do it are points you can explain to any man or woman who’s unprepared for a child. These ads are just adding to social stigma.

  2. Exactly HOW does it have racist, classist and sexist overtones?

    They don’t.

    Racist? FUCK NO! They used 1 black baby, big deal. If they didn’t you’d probably whinge that they didn’t. So fucking what! Black teens have babies too, get over it.

    Classist? It’s been proven poorer teens have more babies, but again, so what?

    Sexist? They also aimed it at fathers, again, so what. If they just aimed it at mothers you’d whinge that fathers should be blamed too.

    That line you spun had no weight whatsoever!

  3. Mary Hershberger says:

    Brooklyn hasn’t been its own city since 1898.

  4. Dr David Bowman says:

    As an educator with 18 years experience working in the public high schools I can assure you that getting age appropriate accurate information to teens about the responsibility of pregnancy and raising a child is an absolute necessity. Will such negative advertisements accomplish this task? No such adds cannot. one of the most basic and problematic issues of this add campaign is the issue of the combined visual content and message. It most immediately vilifies the child as problematic without addressing underlying reasons for teen pregnancy. Remember Teens are Children so there not going to readily accept the idea that they are the problem. It offers the teen viewer a vague disingenuous message by trying to imply that parenthood is an inherently negative and problematic experience. So difficult that a teen couldn’t possibly deal with it. In so doing it may offer a challenge to the teens who are already in a process of rebellion from what they see as controlling influences in there lives. I have worked with many pregnant teens and none of them were stupid, none of them were having a baby they did not want. Many teen girls become pregnant because its seen as a means to empowerment. an adult attention getting behavior that will give them influence over the life of another person and provide them with some one who has to love them. The issues behind teen pregnancy are as complex as any one individual. You can only affect positive change and reduce teen pregnancy by empowering teens with the self esteem and the tools to navigate there emergence in to adult society. and that takes time. developing a national curriculum that could address this is possible but how can it be implemented when mentally ill political opportunists are so greedily working to dismantle and defend public education.

  5. Regardless of class, ethnicity, or gender, when I read the posters I instantly flashed back to the abortion I had three years ago. While the after effects nearly killed me mentally, I recovered but with regret. Still pro choice, I believe some teenagers will read these signs and in a state of confusion think abortion is their only option. Not every mind is capable of reading between the lines, especially the uneducated. The signs are pure propaganda. Basically, we don’t need anymore poor people in this country so don’t have that kid.

    I have seen rural teenagers become successful teen mothers. Their strength ever empowers me. I cannot imagine what mental decline these images might post to the confused and worried minds.

  6. Frances in California says:

    But they want teens to have “Abstinence-Only” sex-ed?

  7. Barbara M Melrose says:

    The money that pays for these ads would be better spent on realistic sexuality education and accessible
    contraception for adolescents. The overly blatant content of the ads could be communicated with compassion through films used as part of comprehensive sex education programs. And while we’re at it, let’s work at making abortion more acceptable and accessible.

  8. These ads are definitely sexist, there’s no “teen dad ad” that mentions, “Kids of TEEN DADS,” like the one that specifically mentions, “Kids of TEEN MOMS.” The only 1 targeting teen dads (There’s 2 ads that target teen moms.) doesn’t have “Teen Dad,” but “Teen Parent.”

    So, where’s the public shaming/blaming unmarried, teen father ad that corresponds to, “Honestly Mom… Chances are he ‘won’t’ stay with you, what happens to ‘me?’ Maybe it should go something like this?: “Honestly Dad… Chances are you won’t stay with her and you’ll have to live with your evils for ‘using’ her and abandoning your children like ‘me.'”

    …Evil’ might’ve been “too harsh,” but by what the mother version was ‘suggesting’ of the situation, ‘evil’ might’ve been the best word description in comparison to “wrongs.” I think boys who just want to have sex, especially ‘unprotected sex’ with girls and are indifferent, in denial, much worse ‘blame the girl,’ when they have fatherly responsibilities after they’ve impregnated their girl partner, deserve to be called ‘evil’ or at least their actions, ’cause who knows HOW many time’s they’ve impregnated girls ‘before’ and will ‘continue’ to do so?

    They should’ve just said, “Kids of TEEN PARENT/S” for every single one of them. But, in general, these ads are very problematic that they are basically “Public Shaming/Blaming” Propaganda.

    I think it should just be obvious that before we start to point fingers at the unmarried, teen parents, that children (before the legalized ‘adult’ age) at least be given ‘mandatory sex education’ and free ‘contraception,’ first. After that, maybe these ads wouldn’t look so condescending, ignorant, and UNHELPFUL.

    • Thank you Ash. When I saw the ad about “he won’t stay” I automatically thought of why it was blaming the mom. Shaming women starts so early.

  9. How sad, A bully campaign! Who gets the personal credit for creating this fiasco?

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