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Shaming Teen Mums is a Bad Idea

By Michelle Higgins - 19th March 2013

What if instead of deciding to shame teenagers out of 'choosing' to become parents with a questionable 'public health' campaign (see here and here and here), New York City instead focused their efforts on ending the 'epidemic' of advanced age motherhood?

A baby - this time white - spewing out the stats on the many known risks of having a child at an advanced maternal age:

"Hey Mom, did you know that if you wait until you are 40 to have me you increase the risk that I will be born with XYZ genetic condition by XYZ percent?"

"Hey Mom, If you wait until you're 42 to have a baby my friends are going to wonder if you're my mom or my grandma."

Or even:

"Hey Dad, That biological clock applies to you too. If you delay fatherhood you put me at higher risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia or autism."

Imagine the outrage.

That outrage would be entirely justified.

Of course, a shame campaign would never be directed at potential older parents even though in public health terms it would be every bit as legitimate as the campaign directed at teens, if not more so.

After all, the disadvantages that face teen parents and their offspring are very much culturally determined and government policies aimed at supporting (financially and socially) teen parents rather than shaming could actually go some way towards ameliorating the disadvantages; on the other hand, the risks faced by older parents are grounded in biology rather than culture, and solutions (outside of encouraging parents to embark on parenthood at an earlier age) primarily involve pushing at the frontiers of medical science.

When it comes to older parents, we readily accept that 'choice' is a pretty dodgy concept when it comes to timing and pregnancy. There are so many variables that are not within our control, and even the ones that are do not lend themselves to easy answers. So those who have 'delayed' parenthood rightly expect to be treated with respect and sensitivity by society, including the media and the medical profession. And when they aren't, their voices are likely to be heard clearly articulating the many reasons why society should not belittle or question their 'choices'.

Yet when it comes to teen parents - and young single mothers on any number of measures are one of the most marginalized groups in society - we are anything but gentle, let alone, respectful. And a public health campaign that relies on dissuading teens from 'choosing' parenthood by relying on shame and sexism is not only a disgrace, it is also unlikely to do anything more productive than further stigmatise a group of parents who need and deserve societies support every bit as much as any other segment of the parent population.

This post was originally published on Michelle's blog, Crooked Fences

Image from freedigitalphotos.net

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