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

Thursday, March 07, 2013

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.


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Comments [21]


Did some people simply not click through to the ad campaign website? There are blond-haired, very white kid at the top one (and bottom). If they were all white kids, there'd be more cries about racism. And there is one about the cost to the guy involved discussing child support.

If people feel shame about the decision they made to have a kid, they need to resolve that. It was their decision to make, and the consequences are theirs to deal with. This ad campaign puts more facts in front of teenagers who may make that decision in the future in order to help them make that decision better.

Mar. 29 2013 05:31 PM

Though some of the content in the NYC ad campaign is controversial, we applaud anyone's effort to combat unwanted teen pregnancy. At BC4U, which is headquartered in Denver, we reach young adults ages 12-24 by providing completely free and confidential birth control (plus STD tests and more). The program has found a lot of success through social media and untraditional tactics. Here's a link to learn more:

Mar. 18 2013 04:32 PM
CKB from Astoria

Where is the ad targeting the males?
Where is the campaign telling young males to not have sex?
But they have no problem once again making women feel bad.
Did anyone ever stop to think, to teach young men to abstain?
I am tired of everyone putting all the blame on women.

Mar. 18 2013 02:19 PM
Brenda from New York City

The adverts do seem to slightly miss the mark, but overall they're not such a bad idea. I'm not sure the intent (or end goal) is stigmatizing teen parents. Finishing school and growing into adulthood before becoming a parent is what we want for all young men and women. Sex and pregnancy has always been part of teen life, but never has it been so glamorized as it is today. Celebrity worship is alive and well and celebrities are having children at any and every age regardless of a committed relationship. It takes a lot to combat that influence. It is completely disingenuous to categorize all teen pregnancies as accidental.

Mar. 09 2013 08:04 AM

I have a major problem with these ads for several reasons:

1. There is a major race issue going on here. Yes, they may be targeting the cultures who have the highest teen pregnancy rates, however, teen pregnancy isn't limited to only a few races, cultures, or ethnicities. It is a human problem.

2. They haven't hit the nail on the head with what's important to a teenager. If you take a close look at Milwaukee's ads and other ads with similar motives, you will see that they have hit the appropriate targets. They show that a baby will affect a teens present life. They have targeted educating parents of teens about talking to their kids about sex, and they targeted teen fathers too. They also targeted people of all colors. Not to mention, they also have a correlating website that is filled with wonderful information.

NYC should have looked closely and educated themselves on the appropriate methods to use for the best outcome. Instead, they have created a racist and offensive campaign that most likely won't get through to the teens who they wish to reach. As soon as you word things in a way that sounds harsh, people stop listening. They become defensive.

Besides all of that, this is also shaming the kids of teen parents.The wordage is meant to say that it is absolute that they won't get anywhere in life, because of their parents actions. If you want to help society, you must be sensitive to all generations of the people who this affects. You must educate teens about sex and birth control, so that they don't get pregnant, but you must encourage those who already have had children to make something of themselves. You must also encourage and support the children, because they didn't have a choice. All of these things together will help bring the numbers of teen pregnancies down. Creating racist shame campaigns, won't.

Mar. 09 2013 12:42 AM
David Smith

I feel like everybody is just assuming that these ads will WORK, but that is faaaaaar from obvious. Name a single public service campaign based on stigmatizing that's worked. Remember how people drank MORE during prohibition, for example? Millions of people will see these ads, and at those kinds of numbers, good intentions are NOT good enough. We can't afford to just wing it any more. I demand scientifically, statistically informed public policy!

Mar. 08 2013 04:40 PM
Jassell M from NYC, NY

The ads are obviously meant for teens who are not yet pregnant, and who end up taking this path. If you were a teen who became pregnant and feel shame, that's normal. Like am ex drug user seeing an ad saying drug users wont live past a certain age, or your life will be miserable, etc. But we should not stop trying to stop others from taking this path, and you should want the same. The ad is not offensive, and is stating statistical facts. Just make sure those facts do not come true for your child and move on with your life.

Mar. 08 2013 12:59 PM

When I had my baby in 1974, the total cost for prenatal care and delivery was about $1500, which my husband and I paid for ourselves. I'm interested to know, how much does it cost for the same medical services today? Also, how many pregnancies in NY state are paid for through medicaid and what is the total cost for taxpayers?

I have a stepgrandaughter who has had 5 pregnancies with 4 fathers, paid for by the state and she feels no shame - her pregnancies guarantee housing, food and medical care. Only her children feel the shame.

Mar. 08 2013 10:57 AM
Ely from Bridgeport

My only problem with these ads is that they really should add a white girl. No matter the color or economic situation, the carelessness of teens (boys and girls) having children should be addressed.
They say the ads are 'hurtful'? What of it? It's the truth. How many teen moms have a biological father who stays around to do the hard work? Do you know of any? Show of hands?
Sorry, I don't subscribe to the parenting message that sugarcoats every facet of life. Bad decisions can lead to a lifetime of hurt--for the mom, the child, the extended family and friends.
We're becoming a nation full of precious fragile snowflakes that can't handle life's hard choices.

Mar. 08 2013 10:29 AM
glork from Glen Ridge, NJ

How effective can these ads be when "Teen Mom" on tv has glorified and glamorized the situation and made celebrities out of those young mothers?

PS Some teens do mature enormously through pregnancy and motherhood and are better mothers at 16 than some first time moms at 35.

To Gramma Goddard : I was raised with your values and wholeheartedly agree, but "shame" has passed from the American vocabulary and apparently from other cultures as well. Requires a sense of morals and self-respect first and we all know that's so over

Mar. 08 2013 08:37 AM
Mina from NYC

It might help if similar type ads were directed to the men/boys who are equally responsible for teen pregnancies. Perhaps if the campaign addressed the (absolute) responsibility of supporting a child for 21 years, it could have results similar to what the City is attempting to do, without stigmatizing the young women.

Mar. 08 2013 07:41 AM
MichaelR.NYC from NYC

These ads aren't pointed towards teen moms AFTER the get pregnant. They're aimed at teen women BEFORE getting pregnant. Teens ignore consequences until after the fact, rationalizing the risk away. Society, local culture, and social circles all share culpability with the teen, but it is the teen who suffers the consequences, and it is HER behavior that causes or prevents pregnancy. When trying to deal with a multi-faceted problem it's best to look at how to make the biggest changes.

Mar. 08 2013 06:14 AM
pamela from usa

thank to you doctor deva for helping me to get back my happiness after many years in trying to get a baby and even my mother in law want me out of my husband house because of not been able to give birth to a child for her son until you cast a spell for me and told me that i was going to get pregnant i never believe i was going to be able to get pregnant until now i want to say big thanks to you Dr.Deva i was put to bed last month and so i am happy to tell people about your work.

Mar. 08 2013 03:04 AM
LatinaNY from Manhattan

One of the markers of poverty and of lack of access to education and employment opportunities is teen pregnancy. Not the other way around. There are plenty of studies on this. Human Resources Administration is being irresponsible in putting these ads out. Yes, they attempt to make women feel ashamed of being teen moms; but it is they who should be ashamed. Access to birth control is not as easy as one of the comments makes it sound. Witness the catholic bishops (all male; all "celibate") tremendous pressure (from God) to keep contraceptives away from women. Pleeeeaaase .... HRA should really let the Health Department take the lead on this one.

Mar. 07 2013 10:26 PM
gramma goddard

folks -- let's deal with the long-term consequences of these girls' irresponsible behavior. What social good has been accomplished over the past 30 years while the rate of single-motherhood and teen pregnancy has gone up? What social good, for them, for the children they haven't the maturity to raise, or for society as a whole?

Mar. 07 2013 10:12 PM

maybe it is Hollywood or the liberal media or glorified sports figures to partial blame.

Mar. 07 2013 08:54 PM
Mari from Manhattan

To "Gramma Goddard" - No, honey, "a little bit of shame" is NOT what these girls need. Having worked with pregnant teens for 5 years, I promise you they feel enough shame. Sometimes this comes out in a different emotion, but the shame they feel is real. They are shamed out of school (don't believe it? read the ACLU report - principals and councilors try to get these girls out of their schools as soon as possible. As if pregnancy were contagious.) Shame isn't going to help them, and it's not going prevent other girls from getting pregnant.

Oh, and "this is New York City, so of course they're black and latino". That's because 16 - 28 year old pregnant females nationwide are twice as likely to get an abortion than are minorities. (Some studies attribute this to the philosophy that white females in that age group generally are higher income and from intact families who have grown up expecting they will be pursuing a college education / career, where as poorer, minority students are not always expecting the same.)

Mar. 07 2013 08:10 PM

Perhaps there are nothing but stereotypes and hearsay at play here. Or perhaps there are facts that overwhelmingly buttress the strategy of this ad.

It sounds like whoever is running the ads (which is a mystery since I'm not seeing a "nut graph" in this article) might consider stepping forward and plainly presenting their logic and motivation.

I'm guessing there are thousands of teen moms who would be insulted that they are being judged to have a problem at all!

Mar. 07 2013 06:40 PM
Gramma Goddard from Urban New Jersey

This report was on the radio as I drove home from the Y where I swim; I was so distressed at the reporter's bias that I had to respond with some of my own. Poverty doesn't cause teen pregnancy; it's the other way around. And a little bit of shame would be an excellent antidote -- my mother, now 95 and the proud daughter of Dakota farmers, says she never had premarital sex because of the shame a baby would bring on her family. It worked for her generation and for centuries before. It's not a bad idea now. I'm a teacher and a student of urban education. And the only way I can see to close the achievement gap is for young people to wait until they are on their feet financially before they have children -- and to accept that it takes both a father and a mother to raise them. As for the "racism" of the ads -- if they were running in the rural Dakotas today (alas), the teen mothers would more likely be white (or, equally tragic, Native American). But they are in New York. Ask Geoffrey Canada if he thinks teen pregnancies don't contribute to the achievement gap. And with birth control methods (and information) widely available, there is no excuse for getting pregnant. These ads are a great idea! I hope they do some good.

Mar. 07 2013 05:36 PM
fuva from harlemworld

I've only seen blacks and latinos featured in these ads. Regardless of the stats, this dangerously perpetuates stereotypes, because it doesn't tell the whole story. More care should have been taken here.

Mar. 07 2013 04:49 PM
David Smith

As is so often the case, what is economical is also ethical. So much money was spent on stigmatizing. It's deplorable. Look, the first lesson any social scientist learns is that when you want to change behavior in a population, stigmatizing is unethical and ineffective. Remember prohibition? You really need to address the underlying issues. There's plenty of evidence that ample access to birth control and accurate sex education reduces teen pregnancy.

Mar. 07 2013 04:42 PM

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