When you think about teen pregnancy, what comes to mind?
Is it crying babies, grinding poverty, miserable soon-to-be-divorced parents?
If that’s not what comes to mind for you, maybe you have actually known a teen mom or dad. Maybe you were one. Maybe your parents were.
Teen pregnancy is a tricky subject. There’s little question that teen parenting is not a good thing – especially, if it is unintended, as upwards of 90% of teen pregnancies are. For most of us, there’s no question that increasing access to information and contraception is the key to preventing unintended pregnancy – including those among teenagers.
Despite our images of teen parents, pregnancy and parenting are only one part of their lives. And, as Elizabeth Finley of SHIFT NC says, with the right support, “teen parents can be really fantastic parents, people, community members, and employees.”
The focus on preventing teen pregnancy and the shame and stigma that follow, can keep us from acknowledging teen parents as women and men and moms and dads who need what what we all need – support and encouragement.
And far too often young people are forced to try and navigate systems that were created by adults and simply don’t work for them.
Case in point: Abstinence only sex education programs simply do not work. In fact, they might be one of the reasons that the US has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. When was the last time telling teenagers not to do something worked? Yet, only 13 states require that sex education be medically accurate (believe it or not, North Carolina is one of them!) and half the country focuses on abstinence-only.
Case in point: We tell teens to be responsible and use birth control. But the most effective birth control methods – IUDs and implants – can cost a month’s salary for a uninsured minimum wage worker. And about a third of publicly funded clinics don’t even offer them.
Thanks to Obama Care, many more young people have insurance than ever before and birth control is a mandated benefit – free! Maybe that’s one reason that teen pregnancy rates are at an all time low. In North Carolina, as in much of the rest of the country, teen pregnancy rates peaked in 1990. Our state’s teen pregnancy rate has fallen by an astounding 73% since then. Pregnancies have fallen among girls of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The federal Title IX law says that pregnant teens must have equal access to education. Far too often many teen moms face discrimination, harassment and other barriers like lack of child care – or desks that are too small for pregnant bellies – that make it hard for them to continue in school. It’s not just that teens moms drop out of school – many of them are pushed out by systems and people that simply do not support them.
As for me, when I picture a teen mom, I think about Wendy Davis. You know, the woman who stood up in her pink running shoes and staged an 11 hour filibuster to protect abortion rights in the Texas Senate. She was a teen mom who worked part-time to make ends meet while she went to community college. She went on to graduate from Harvard Law School and served six years in the Texas Senate. After the filibuster, she ran for Governor. Her memoir is entitled Forgetting to Be Afraid.
Talk about role models!