Support over shame

Why Reducing the Negative Stigmatization of Teen Parenting is Essential

Kinzie Shepherd, Co-Editor In Chief

Becoming a parent should be one of the most joyous times in a person’s life. It should be a period of celebration and excitement no matter which stage of life you are in. For teen parents, however, this experience is all too often met with shame, neglect and harassment.

Society has established what the ideal family looks like, and any variation in that ideal is seen as a blemish on our culture. From a young age, it is ingrained in us that a “good”  family is a married mother and father, who are well-educated thirty-somethings with established careers and a big house. But quite frankly, this perfect, cookie-cutter depiction is outdated and overrated.

In today’s society, family structures have evolved dramatically. And that is okay.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 468,988 babies were born to teen parents in 2015 alone. This figure was supported by the American Pregnancy Association who also contested the rate at which teens give birth is remaining steady and has no indication of declining. This suggests that teen parenting is a significant aspect of American culture. It is time to begin acknowledging this as an attribute rather than an affliction.

We must stop shaming teen parents for not fitting the mold. An unplanned pregnancy does not prevent parents from being exceptional. And it most certainly does not mean they, or their children, are less than.

Natasha Vianna, a teen mother, youth advocate and co-founder of the No Teen Shame campaign, expressed that, “in our society there is a system of people who work together to limit and destroy teen parent’s happiness. Their priority is to prove teens are miserable, incompetent and incapable of having a successful life after becoming parents,” Vianna went on to state, “what they don’t know is, teens internalize these negative connotations and let them define who they are.”

The sad thing is, these people are typically family members, friends, teachers, etc.

The Advocates for Youth Organization reports that, “in Arkansas, 80 in every 1,000 teens are teen parents and the majority of those teens say they have felt put down, bullied, and/or harassed by an authority figure, their family, or their friends during their pregnancy or parenthood,” even more alarmingly, the organization also reported that, “70 percent of these teens end up dropping out of high school due to this harassment.”

While legislation such as, Title Nine, works to protect students against discrimination based on gender and sexuality, the hate still runs rampant.

When we use phrases like, “slut,” “dropout,” “deadbeat dad,” and comparisons such as, “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant”, we in turn create a culture that only acknowledges the negative stigma of what a teen pregnancy and parenthood could be like.

Senior Alexandria Britton challenges the teen parent stigma in her photojournalism social issues project, “The New Norm.” This project expertly illustrates the stereotypes and comments young mothers encounter throughout their pregnancy and into their motherhood.

Britton covered a mother’s pregnant belly with words like “naïve,” “slut,” “failure.” Everything but what a mother should be recognized for. But this is what it is really like for young, expectant mothers. Nobody acknowledges the fact that young parents can still be compassionate, involved and supportive.

For Britton, this tormenting was all too real.

In 2016, she and her boyfriend, senior Austin Pruitt welcomed their first child, Rhett Alexander.

“When I was pregnant, I tried out for a solo in my high school choir concert in North Carolina. My teacher refused to give me the role because I was pregnant. The same teacher also refused to put me on the homecoming court ballet because she said I wasn’t ‘eligible’ because I was pregnant.” said Britton.

But this did not stop her from making the best life she can for her new family. In addition to completing high school and maintaining a part time job, Britton was accepted to the University of Arkansas where she plans to pursue a career in secondary education. Pruitt will also attend college in the fall where he will work towards a degree in criminal justice. Both of the teens have been fully supported by their families.

Britton’s explained her motivation for creating “The New Norm” video was to share with people how their comments really do affect teen parents.

“I decided to do this project because I don’t think anyone realizes what it’s like to be a teen mom until they are. It’s just become so normal to look at people in a negative way even if they are making a positive impact,” said Britton, “and it’s not just teen moms that get treated badly, teen fathers get treated just as poorly.”

In less than a month, Britton’s video has been viewed over 90,000 times and shared with people all over the country. She has even been asked by her viewers to share it with the Ellen Show.

Overall, it is safe to say Britton’s project has taught not only teen parents, but our community as a whole, a very valuable lesson. It has taught us that negativity does not define you. No matter what obstacles life throws at you, you can overcome them. Having a child is not the end of your life, rather it is the beginning of one. You can still follow your dreams. You can go to college, establish a career, move out of your parent’s house. You can do anything you set your mind to, and you should not ever let anybody tell you you can not.

Though there is still a lot of progression that needs to happen to make teen parents feel just as worthy as adult parents, the fact that people like Alexandria are sparking this discussion testifies to improvement.