There’s that look. The look of pure and utter judgement. The same look I got a few weeks ago for looking in the condom aisle, except this time, I’m buying a pregnancy test. As the cashier rings me up she just gives me this look that makes me feel bad and ashamed. Just like when I was going to buy condoms. Because of that look a few weeks ago, I didn’t go through with buying the condoms like I should have. Now my mind is going everywhere and I feel so anxious of what the results will be. The cashier made me feel so alone and judged. I just can’t help but think what my friends and family will say, let alone, how they’ll make me feel. How will my boyfriend feel if this test is positive? Will he stay and help me? Will he leave me to raise our child alone? I’m so scared. I wish I could have talked to my mom about this but I already knew she would be mad with my decision to want to have sex. She has been through the same thing but wouldn’t be as supportive because I already knew the consequences. That’s why I was so ashamed to come to her about protection. She’s going to be so worried about what her friends will think. I’m going to lose so many friends like a girl in my school. You would think I would have steered away from this path seeing her lose friends and talked bad about. Sadly, I didn’t and now I’m so ashamed of not getting help with protection before this happened. Shame has been used as a “weapon” to prevent things like teen pregnancy from happening. Some believe that “shame is an essential ingredient for a healthy society and acts as a social “nudge” encouraging good behavior.” (Reeves.) Shaming teen pregnancies does more harm than good because it has been used for years but with no luck in preventing it and instead making them feel scared and more lonely than they already do, shaming them with stereotypes will only make them feel like that’s how their life will be, lack of support can have a negative affect in the long run, and making them feel ashamed will make them less likely to get the protection that they need. Most teens realize they made the big decision to have sex and know, now that they’re pregnant, that they will have to take responsibility for their actions now. Also, they are most likely beating themselves up about it and don’t need to be talked down more than they are doing to themselves. Teenagers need more support to be able to successfully get through this issue.
Throughout research there have been studies that say shaming should not be a way of trying to prevent this worldwide “issue”. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, when teen pregnancies became an issue worldwide, “the custom of “going away” during an era of hiding and surrender was maintained through practices of secrecy, shaming, and silence.”(Adams, Heather Brook) Shaming has been used for years but still hasn’t done the job of preventing teen pregnancies as it was meant to do yet, we, as a society, continue to shame in hopes it will work to scare others into not doing it. People make mistakes and learn from them. No one likes being shamed for a mistake they committed but yet people continue everyday to shame one another for various things. Shame seems to be an instinct to give off when someone does something that is wrong in society’s eyes. Shaming takes a toll on those being shamed, yes it may put fear in others, but it doesn’t affect others more than it does to the teens being shamed. There was a study conducted on the possible social and psychological “problems associated with adolescent childbearing confirmed that lack of social support was a risk factor for the adjustment and development” of young mothers and their children. (Ginsburg, Norris, Richter) Shaming instead of being supportive has been proven that it affects the teens going through teen pregnancy or parenthood in a bad way. For example, it can cause more stress to the pregnant teen than she already has trying to get through this tough experience and can cause more health risks. With constant negativity towards teen parents it makes it hard for them to continue to prosper. Just cause they got pregnant young does not mean they have to be shamed into the stereotypes when support can easily fix the stereotypes that were created to make teen pregnancy a bad thing. Stereotypes are also used to try and scare teens into not getting pregnant young because telling them they can’t achieve things that others who wait can will make them believe they are going to be that certain stereotype. As if shaming was already bad enough, the stereotypes that come with it doesn’t help either.
There are many stereotypes in teen pregnancies. For example, “teen mothers are stigmatized by stereotypes that they are unmotivated, irresponsible, and incompetent parents.” (SmithBattle, PhD,RN) Yes, it was irresponsible for getting pregnant young but that doesn’t mean they’ll be an irresponsible parent because everyone is different and age doesn’t necessarily define how much love you’ll have for your child or even deteremine that they will be incompetent parents. Therefore, you can’t judge one teen because of how another one was. From personal experiences, the child or unborn child became a motivation for the teens to do better and strive to give their child the very best life that they can give them. A few more stereotypes are that women who have a baby in their teens are “subsequently less likely to participate in the labor force, complete school, and are more likely to rely on various forms of public assistance than those who do not give birth in adolescents.” (Hotz, McElroy, and Sanders) Even though this is more likely, teens will go down a path in which they feel, believe, or have been told that is what will happen to them. If more people would tell them what they CAN do they would most likely not believe they will end up like the stereotypes. Another example of stereotypes in teen pregnancy is that teen parents’ kids go on to be teen parents as well. This was proven to not be entirely true by a study that was conudcted in Baltimore. The study found that “only a minority of the offspring of teenage mothers go on to become adolescent parents”(Furstenburg, Judith, Jeanne) therefore it is not entirely true. The stereotype that teen mothers no longer have a future anymore is one that many teen parents hear from family or other people who believe this to be true. Teen parents are more than capable of still having a future if people would stop telling them and making them feel that their lives are over. In fact, their lives aren’t over they just went down a new path in life. In order to stop these stereotypes from happening we must first help the teens going through adolescent childbearing to at least finish school so they have a better chance at getting a job in the labor force. Starting more school programs to help teen parents graduate can help end that stereotype and hopefully encourage schools to have more educated classes on teen pregnancy and give them more options on how to avoid it until they’re ready. Current research suggest that “parents, partners, and peers who provide different, but complementary forms of support for teenage mothers appear to contribute to more positive outcomes for this group.” (Bunting and McAuley) Teens need support more than ever because of these stereotypes when they are pregnant young. Instead of shaming and giving off stereotypes to scare teens into not getting pregnant young we should be more open about sex with them so they aren’t afraid or ashamed to get protection if they make the decision to have sex. If they are already pregnant there is no use in scaring them more on what they will likely be but instead try to help or find more solutions to fix this problem.
After conducting my own research, asking women on an online chat, my findings were on how they felt about the stereotypes of teen pregnancy, how they think teen pregnancy can be prevented without being shamed, and if they think parental and spousal support helps make the situation easier. The women in the online chat answered based off of personal experiences and based off of people they know. The results for how they felt about stereotypes were that the stereotypes can be true but they know of people succeeding by finishing school and getting a career. One woman even said she did not finish school but that wasn’t because of her own personal teen pregnancy but left before for different reasons. For the stereotype that teens are unmotivated parents, they felt that everyone is different and that teen parents should be judged fairly because yes, teen moms can make mistakes, but so can a mother who waited to have children after adolescence. A few said it was hard and they could have waited longer to have their child or children but regardless they love and are happy with their children. With that being said, it gives alittle more proof that not every teen should or can be judged based off of another’s experience because a majority of teen parents love and take care of their kids just as much as someone else does who waited longer. For the question on how they think teen pregnancy can be prevented without shame some answered that if teens were educated more about sex and contraceptives it will help them feel less ashamed about it. The results for the question about support ended with with that the support did make things easier and more helpful. The support gives them a positive feeling of them being able to get through this. A woman did feel that support is needed but teens should also be told about how hard it will be.Overall they mostly felt support is needed and is helpful, that stereotypes should not be on every teen parent because everyone is different, and that more education and communication can help prevent teen pregnancies in the future.
Since teen pregnancy is such a big issue it should be handled by communicating with the youth about preventing it and how to get protection instead of using shame as a way of protection against teen pregnancy. Even though there are disadvantages to teen pregnancy, stated by moms-to-be in a study, which include “lack of preparedness and others’ perceptions.”(Rosengard, Pollock, Weitzen, Meers, Phipps) Shaming the teens won’t fix the fact that their are already pregnant. Instead we should work on communicating with them. “If the youth were sexually active then they were more likely to use birth control if taught at home” ( Aspy, Cheryl B. et. al) Communication seems to be a key role in helping teens feel more comfortable about getting protection for sex and more comfortable asking for help getting birth control or condoms. Instead of giving off the impression having sex is bad and make them feel bad for asking about protection, we should be more open with our youth if they are curious and want more information about sex and protection. They should feel comfortable and not scared to discuss this with their parents. That way they are less likely in hiding the fact they are sexually active. Enough with putting fear in our kids about sex. They will eventually do it and make their own decision so all we can really do is help and teach them the importance in waiting to have a child and about protection for when they do make the decision of having sex.
Even with evidence that shaming MAY help put fear into other teens, it does more harm to the teens who are already pregnant who need support more than ever. Teen pregnancies have been decreasing but still occurring more than it should. Shaming and using stereotypes to input fear in others has always been a common way of keeping people in line in a certain way of how some feel society should be. Since that approach hasn’t been working then a new one needs to emerge. Starting with communicating with the teens that sex isn’t wrong, it’s natural, and how they can come to parents or family to get condoms or birthcontrol. Then, stop judging the teens when they do come in stores for protection or making them feel embarrassed or ashamed for getting protection. People frown upon teen pregnancy but when the teens try to be smart and try to prevent becoming pregnant by getting protection they are shamed for it. They should be able to do the smart thing by getting protection without feeling judged or shamed. How is teen pregnancy going to be prevented when they are scared to get contraceptives and scared to talk to family about it for fear of being shamed for it. Teen pregnancy should not be praised of course and telling teens it’s okay to go off and get pregnant is also not okay or the point but for the teens who are already pregnant, they shouldn’t have to be put through more stress and punishment because they will be talked about, judged with stares and whispers from strangers who don’t even know their story, and lastly, they are still kids themselves and need more guidance. Therefore, to prevent more teen pregnancies from happening there needs to be more education about sex, how to use protection, and an easier way of getting the contraceptives but for those who are already pregnant must be motivated to keep striving to better things and not settling to be a stereotype but to stay motivated to prove stereotypes wrong.
Adams, Heather Brook, “Secrets and Silences: Rhetorics of Unwed Pregnancy Since 1960” Pennsylvania State University, 2012
Richter, Linda M., Shane A. Norris, and Carren Ginsburg, “The Silent Truth of Teenage Pregnancies.” South African Medical Journal, 2006
Rosengard, Cynthia, et al, “Concepts of The Advantages and Disadvantages of Teenage Childbearing Among Pregnant Adolescents: A Qualitative Analysis.” Pediatrics, 2006
Reeves, Richard V., “Shame Is Not a Four-Letter Word.” New York Times, 2013
SmithBattle, Lee I. PhD, RN, “Reducing The Stigmatization of Teen Mothers.” MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, 2013
- Joseph Hotz, Susan Williams McElroy, and Seth G. Sanders, “In Kids Having Kids: The Economic Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy.” 1997
Bunting, Lisa; McAuley, Colette, “Research Review: Teenage Pregnancy and Motherhood The Contribution of Support.” Child & Family Social Work, 2004
Aspy, Cheryl B., et al, “Parental Communication and Youth Sexual Behavior.” Journal of Adolescence, 2007
Furstenburg Jr, Frank F., Judith A. Levine, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn,” The Children of Teenage Mothers: Patterns of Early Childbearing in Two Generations.” Family Planning Perspectives, 1990