Em-URGE-ing Voices

Your urgent thoughts, urging action

Revolution With a Side of Pampers

Posted by

May 30, 2013

ruth“Mom, I love you! You’re the best!” I get to hear this every day from my amazing 6 year old son who I have been a single mother to since the day he was born. After celebrating Mothers Day this year, I found out that May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, at which point my stomach started twisting in knots. Given my own experience dealing with teen pregnancy in the conservative South, I’m always skeptical when I see prevention campaigns since they’re usually solely focused on shaming the mother’s “mistake” and not looking at a bigger picture. The Candies Foundation’s #NoTeenPreg campaign is no different.

The latest print PSA’s from the #NoTeenPreg campaign show celebrities with one-liners like “You should be changing the world, not changing diapers,” and “Don’t be a statistic.” The video PSA’s use the same tactic but with a dark, ominous backdrop and melancholy music. It’s enough to make anyone feel a little freaked out, regardless of the subject. The problem with these ads and the whole approach of #NoTeenPreg is that they’re just looking at the surface of an issue and pointing blame, not looking at the bigger picture and the contributing factors. They fail to look at the context of the situation, like how race and socioeconomic class play a part, what the home life is like for these teens, and whether or not they have access to contraception and comprehensive sex education.

When we’re talking about preventing unintended teen pregnancy, we’ve got to have a real discussion about how kids are getting their information about sex and where it’s coming from. How can we expect teens to make informed decisions if we don’t give them to tools to make them? Sex ed is not just a class requirement; it’s a lifelong discussion that has to be started at a young age. Parents cannot simply rely on schools to arm their kids with the knowledge they need. These classes, like Good Touch Bad Touch and the high school sex ed class that gets attached to a P.E. requirement, last only for a short time and do not continue on once it’s over, much less give well-rounded or accurate information. It’s more than just having “the talk” and hoping they make the best of it, it’s about creating a safe space for your kids to talk openly and ask questions, even if you don’t know all the answers. Take away the quietness and stigma the surrounds sexuality and give kids a healthy framework with which to look at their world and form their own ideas.

For years now, my generation of young mothers has been painted as irresponsible, selfish, and naïve by campaigns like #NoTeenPreg and through the media in shows like Teen Mom and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I’ve even heard of teen pregnancy being called an epidemic by news reporters as an attention grabbing catch phrase. Nowhere is there a story about a young mom who has managed to provide for her family and raise happy, healthy children. Sure, she may not have gotten to study abroad or even make it to college, but that does not make her life or her accomplishments any less meaningful. We’ve got to stop focusing on the negativity that surrounds young parenting. We know how hard it is, we’ve taken responsibility for our choices and we live it every day.

I learned firsthand just how negatively society views young mothers when I found out I was pregnant. I was 17 and in the beginning of my senior year of high school. I was an honor student and was never in any trouble at school so I knew as soon as word got out, it would spread like wildfire. I ended up leaving the main campus to finish up my senior year at the alternative school, partly because I would finish in December instead of May and partly for my own sanity. Aside from a handful of understanding teachers and family members, I was met with prejudice every time I was out in public once I started showing. No one asked about where the father was or what the situation was like, it was all about my own irresponsibility or how could I let myself get pregnant. Despite my biblical first name of Mary, I did not have my son through virgin birth, but that didn’t seem to matter when my womb was the only thing people saw when they looked at me. One male doctor actually said after seeing the stretch marks on my 7 month belly that I had ruined my stomach, as if that was my major concern in this whole situation.

That doctor, as well as The Candies Foundation, would have me believe that my life was over now that I was a teen mom, that I would never achieve any of the dreams I had for myself. I had made the worst mistake of my life and now I was going to pay for it. What they don’t understand is that life is flexible and changing. My dream as a 16 year old is not my dream now that I’m 24. I’ve achieved what I wanted for myself and my son so far and I keep making new dreams to go for. My advice as a young mother to The Candies Foundation is that if you’re really concerned about teen pregnancy, drop the tired old patriarchal messages and start empowering young parents to feel good about themselves and what they have accomplished so far, even if it’s as small as getting little words of kindness from their children.

Ruth Walker, 24, was born and raised in Georgia and mother of an awesome 6 year old son. Ruth graduated from The University of Georgia in May of 2012 with a B.S. in Psychology and has plans to go to graduate school for a Masters in Social Work. Ruth was a member of UGA’s Women’s Studies Student Organization, a Choice USA chapter, and worked on their annual Take Back the Night event. A music, food, and roller derby enthusiast, Ruth can be found on any given night indulging one of them.

Sign the petition to Candie’s: http://tinyurl.com/p7jl3un

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.