Do the City's New Teen Pregnancy Ads Stigmatize Girls?

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Teen mothers are speaking out about a city-funded ad campaign to discourage teen pregnancy. The ad has drawn fire from groups that work with pregnant teens who say it unfairly stigmatizes poor and minority girls.

The ad campaign is running in bus shelters right now and will appear on subways next week.  In one ad, a little girl with her index finger to her lip, says "Honestly mom...chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?"  Another ad pictures a crying baby with the words, "I'm twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen."

Gloria Malone says the ads are hurtful. The young mother writes a blog called Teen Mom NYC. She got pregnant when she was 15 and said it was a very difficult time.

"My little sister, she used to always tell me I was her role model and I questioned what type of role model am I to her. What type of daughter am I to my parents. What type of sister am I to my siblings," Malone said.  "There was a lot of shame and it took a long time to get over that shame and those ads just bring it right back."

Malone acknowledged that being a teen mother was full of hardships. But she said she finished high school with honors and is in her senior year at Baruch College. She said teen moms need to know there is hope.

Groups such as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood and others say shame tactics don't work on teens. They criticized the ads for stigmatizing teen moms and for delivering the false message that teen pregnancy causes poverty. They argue it's really the other way around.

City Human Resources Administration spokeswoman Connie Ress defended the ads in a statement.  "Our campaign is designed with strong messages to start a necessary discussion about the serious outcomes of teen pregnancy.  The facts are clear about the responsibilities and consequences of not waiting until you're financially and emotionally ready to take care of a child."

The city says the ad campaign cost $400,000 and was tested before it was released in front of focus groups that included teens and their parents. Jelysa Roberts was in one of those groups.  Roberts, who had had a baby at 16 and now works for a city program that counsels teens against having kids says teens can be clueless about money.

"If we ask them how much you think childcare is a month they would say $300," Roberts said.  "They don't know it's like $700 plus for childcare. So these ads are definitely the truth."

The city says teen pregnancy rates have fallen 27% in the last decade, however there are still more than 20,000 teen pregnancies annually.

Critics don't dispute that many of the messages are true, but they argue money would have been better spent on programs that help teens escape poverty and thereby pregnancy, rather than on ads that further isolate young moms.