I had heard a little bit about an NYC anti-teen pregnancy campaign that was coming under scrutiny for stigmatizing young mothers, but I hadn't paid much attention until this morning. I caught an discussion on NPR's Tell Me More where women with differing views about the potential effectiveness of such ads discussed them.
listen in or read the full transcript. One part of the discussion really stuck with me and made me SO WISH I could chime in.
Host Michele Martin asked panelist Natasha Vianna (who was a teen mom herself and is now a blogger and health care worker) about the shaming side of the campaign.
MARTIN: Well, I got to ask you about this, Natasha, though. What about shame? I mean shame is one of the reasons why we probably cut down on the drunk driving rate in this country. It used to be OK to have a couple beers and people all turned a blind eye to this. Shame is part of the reason we've cut down on smoking in this country. Is shame really such a bad idea?
VIANNA: Well, I'm not sure, but thinking about it, sex is a basic biological urge. It's something that all humans do. It's not necessarily a choice of whether or not you are going to have sex, it's usually a matter of when you are going to have sex. So I think the issue here is, you know, either delaying sex for teens or encouraging them to use birth control and have safe sex if they decide to. But I don't think that shaming them and making, you know, teenage sex this negative behavior, it's not quite to make teen pregnancy disappear, it's definitely not.Vianna hit on a important point that shame most likely won't decrease teen pregnancy...but there were a couple of points that struck me as I listened.
1) Teen parenting is nothing like drunk driving or smoking. With the shaming of drunk driving and smoking, there are two groups of people you can, in theory, positively influence a) people at risk for doing these things who might think twice and not do them and b) people who currently do them can learn that they should quit those behaviors. With these NYC ads, by creating a culture of shame, you might deter some teens from becoming parents who otherwise would have. But what is the implication for teens who are already parenting? That's not something they can really "quit," so all you've effectively done is disparaged their choices/circumstance/lifestyle, which brings me to my next point...
2) Teen moms already receive a ton of shame in our culture. To me, a good public service educates society about something they don't know, and there are many ways that a campaign aimed at reducing teen pregnancy could do that. (For example, they could provide the same statistics which explain about the proven difficulties teen parents face, and follow it up with somewhere to receive family planning services.) But instead, these ads contribute to the chorus of shame facing young parents.
The posters are really unfortunate, if you ask me, because as was pointed out in the Tell Me More discussion, they are just one part of a comprehensive campaign to lower teen pregnancy in NYC. But they are the piece getting the most attention, so it's ultimately the stigmatization that rises to the top.
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