Teen Pregnancy is Not a Problem

Date: June 17th, 2016

Young Women United (YWU), an organization dedicated to an intersectional vision of reproductive justice and to supporting young women and people of color in New Mexico, recently released a short report critiquing the language of “teen pregnancy prevention.” Defining the term as “an articulated strategy or campaign designed to keep young people from becoming parents as teenagers, of which the underlying premise is that teen pregnancy is inherently something that needs to be prevented,” YWU seeks to reframe conversations about young parenthood in ways that recognize the capability and agency of young pregnant and parenting people. To demonstrate how talking about “teen pregnancy” as something that needs to be prevented is harmful, the report addresses and debunks four common myths about young parents.

Myth #1: Teen parents are a drain on government resources and cost taxpayers a lot of money. Citing research that reports that billions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent as a result of adolescent pregnancies, teen pregnancy prevention advocates often blame young parents for earning little income and paying little in taxes. These advocates fail to recognize that having children hardly changes the economic trajectories of young parents.

Myth #2: Children of teen parents have poor outcomes. Given the history of attacks on reproductive health and well-being in communities of color, some scholars describe young parenthood as “adaptive” or “protective.” For many, having children young is a rational and deliberate choice, and as one scholar writes, it can be “a strategy for coping with economic uncertainty.”

Myth #3: Teen parents are babies having babies. Today, the “normal” life course for a teenager involves going to college and “finding yourself” while remaining financially dependent on family. For many young people, however, being a teenager actually means being a financially responsible caretaker. Infantilizing language is not only insulting but also ignores the very adult responsibilities young people take on.

Myth #4: Teens who have babies have ruined their lives. Young parenthood is often placed in contradiction not only with the pursuit of personal interests and dreams, but also with joy. Young parents, however, often cite having children as their motivation to finish school and to become more responsible and focused.

Moving Forward

YWU writes that “the key to improving the outcomes that are presently correlated with— but not caused by—adolescent childbearing is working towards undoing socio-economic inequities.” The language of “teen pregnancy prevention” scapegoats young parents and distracts from the greater systemic issues that shape their lives. Reproductive justice movements are grounded in the belief that when provided with complete information and accessible resources, people can choose what is best for them. Discussing the challenges of being a young parent is critical to providing adolescents with quality, comprehensive reproductive health education, but the frame of “prevention” is incompatible with the core values of reproductive justice.

Healthy Teen Network applauds YWU for their fearlessness in calling out the social injustices young families face and reframing the conversation around young parenthood and sexual and reproductive health. This kind of innovative Youth 360° holistic health promotion values all young people and helps garner support to help young families thrive.

This Father’s Day, let us remember to celebrate all families, including those with young fathers. Check out our May 2014 blog post on the importance of an inclusive Youth 360° message for more on celebrating all families and honoring young families equally.

For more information on supporting young families, check out these select Healthy Teen Network resources (or view the full list here):

How do you move beyond prevention to promote holistic adolescent sexual and reproductive health? How do you work to use positive, inclusive language that celebrates all families?

Natalie Cortes is a recent graduate of New York University and a Marketing and Communications Intern at Healthy Teen Network. 

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