It’s More Than Just the Ads–Teen Moms Get Bullied Every Day

March 11, 2013  |  

Last week, there was plenty of uproar over a new series of ads targeting teen mothers or would-be teen mothers in the New York transit system. The most reviled ad in the campaign featured a crying child telling his parent, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” But an insightful essay rom Natasha Vianna on RH Reality Check says this shaming in the ads is nothing new for teen moms.

Vianna’s passionate about the topic because she was a teen mom herself, one that worked hard to finish high school despite everyone telling her to give up. And while she endured her share of taunts and stares from classmates, her teachers made it hardest. She writes, “The students gossiped, but they did it behind my back. The teachers, oh the teachers, they showed their disapproval to my face.”

She finished her junior year at one school and started her senior year at a much larger school that had more pregnant students and students with children. Even though there were plenty of students in the same spot, teachers were hardly compassionate.

“Their expectations were extremely low. After my first day of school, I went to my guidance counselor’s office to ask why I was no longer in honors classes. My classes were boring and slow-paced and covered material I already knew. Her response was that she questioned whether I would even graduate high school, so it would be safer to put me in easy classes that I could easily pass than to put me in challenging classes. In shock, I walked away from her office. I came back two months later to ask her if she would help me apply for college. She told me that it would be best to focus on graduating school—then, if I did, maybe I could enroll in a community college. Again, I walked away with my head hung low.”

The most basic things she needed to take care of herself and her child became a problem for her teachers. Vianna missed lots of class to go to doctor’s appointments herself, and to take her daughter, who has congenital hypothyroidism, for the batteries of tests and appointments required. She shared one particularly humiliating story about not being excused to pump during a class:

One day, as I sat in her class with swollen breasts and in extreme discomfort, I raised my hand and asked her if I could leave. She said no. I begged. She said no. A few moments later, my breasts began to leak. I was wearing breast pads, but my breasts were so full that they began to leak through the pads. The teacher looked over, pointed at me in front of a class of 18-year-olds, and said, “You’re leaking breastmilk.” My face turning beet red. I ran out of the room and cried in the nurse’s office.

Vianna went on to finish high school, go to college, and become an advocate for teen parents. In sharing her story, she wanted people—parents, school administrators, everyone—to understand that in order to prevent teen parents from becoming the uneducated, unproductive stereotype they believe them to be, they have to have support.

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  • Honestly, everything those ads stated I would be telling my kids about teen pregnancy anyway. It’s nothing to be proud of. It takes a “village” to raise a child and when a teen is pregnant, their parents are the ones who have to step up and help out. It’s not fair at all to the parents who finished raising their babies and want to be grandparents not “parents” to their grandchildren.

    As far as the teachers and counselors are concerned, it’s not right for them to tell a student that they should just give up. However, they are well in their right to deny a student special treatment like being excused to pump breast milk. Obviously, being pregnant in high school is not a good idea and feeling the serious consequences of their actions is a wake up call. Making it “easy” for them encourages them to keep making bad choices.

  • Bri

    Whatever , it’s only in this day and age “teen moms” are bad when did you think they started having babies back in the day? 20? 25? no it was around 17 and 18 maybe younger and before then even younger especially in the Egyptian time when the average life span was until 25 years old so what age do you think they had babies in order for us to be here? What happen to it takes a village to raise a child?

  • Whatever happened to grace? We all make not so wise decisions, but the goal is to learn from those decisions & make better ones in the future. Trying to hurt/bully/slam someone because they are human, just teaches them that you are judgmental & rude. Instead of trying to force someone to feel shame (which they usually feel already & trust me, don’t need your help making it worse), how about teaching them through your own actions how to treat others, regardless of what the choices they have made in the past. What matters is their future decisions. If you decide whether people, whether they are teens or not, are a certain way & give them no hope for the future, you are in essence trying to have them fulfill the “prophesy” that you’ve spoken over them. I pray that any of these girls going through this will have the courage & the heart to look past all those who would be a detriment to them & to their child’s future, and show the world just how wrong they are! I love how the girls are bullied… but what about the dads… especially those who aren’t there for their kids? Funny how society can be so hypocritical!

  • Me1

    Thats not true there are many cultures who force boys/men to marry and support women they get pregnant.

  • kierah

    These ads were not intended to shame teen moms, but to prevent more teen pregnancies. If you are a teen parent that is completing schooling and taking an active role in your child’s upbringing, these posters are not talking to you or about you. You are beating the odds.
    Most teen parents do not fall into that category. For the success stories we hear, most people (including teen moms) concede that most teens do not make great parents. Teens should know just what kind of hole they are digging for themselves when they choose unprotected sex. The ads are encouraging teens to THINK about the choices they are making.

  • the truth

    Again, the answer to teen pregnancy is love, understanding compassion. NOT abortion. I bet this girl would have felt equally bullied if someone wanted her to abort.

  • MM82

    They should shame teen mothers . Scare the snot out of them . You shouldn’t be treated nicely for doing wrong . I didn’t have a baby as a teenager because my mother made it seem as one of the most horrible things ever and she never back down on showing her disgust for those who did.

  • Aerris

    That and mandate more responsibility of these men. That’s part of the problem, fathers get off too easy.

  • Aerris

    It IS bullying when you are in a school environment, a place to learn, and you’re not being taught how to roll with the punches. Vianna’s teachers made her life harder and should have used her as an example — just because you have a child does not mean you give up on your dreams in live — it means you work harder for them because you now have someone depending on you. It is true that it’s VERY inconsiderate to have a child at a young age, but it is also true that a lot of teenagers get help from their parents so their kids are usually not homeless. Just had to comment because although these teens made a bad decision, the teachers’ choice to make their lives harder is their OWN decision. If you’re looking at a teen parent in disgust WHY is your next choice of action to make his or her life harder?? Just doesn’t make sense to me.

  • NYParent

    i was a teen mom my now 16 yr old daughter is a honor student and always been, I finished high school and college and have a great career. I never lived up to the Stereotype. But the ads are offensive.

  • Don’t Judge…let’s uplift

    I totally agree with Vianna. I had my son in my senior year of high school at the age of 17. It was hard but I graduated and went on to college to obtain my RN BSN and now working on my masters(I’m 28). My son is a straight A student and is in the STEM program I should also add that he is in all advanced courses. These ads are hurtful to a young woman trying to make a better life for herself and child. we should not shame them but uplift these girls as a community so we can stop the cycle and if it does happen give them the support to keep moving forward. It’s a wonderful thing that Vianna is doi and I hope it spreads across the country and world. Without the help and support of my family, some in the community and friends I don’t know where I would be today.

  • vanelle22

    Now that was wrong. If the pregnant teen is doing good in school she should continue to get the same treatment as most focused students have. Now the ones who purposely miss class and don’t want to learn anything,…..that I would stray away from. Its hard out here regardless, if the person you are trying to help can’t meet you halfway then don’t waste your time…..

  • Missy

    Making a person feel less for any reason is always wrong on all levels, I believe a person shouldn’t be judged by the poor choices They made, in this case that would be a guy, not the pregnancy, there arent any accidents. Bullying is wrong period. Its very hurtful, if a person isnt causing trouble, and just minding their own buisness, or trying to reach out, or trying to turn a – into a +, people should meet them half way, it usually only takes one or two people to be nice, and a ripple effect begins.

  • Nene

    Agreed, if we did this more often the numbers would cease to exist. I learned in life when I did something wrong and it got looked down on enough I didn’t do it again.

  • iHM

    That’s a good point. But I think it’s different for boys. For years we have fought to retain the rights to our own bodies. We can’t throw that away just to shame the boys, that’s moving backwards. Ultimately, contraception and abortion / adoption are our choice (women) to make and nobody else’s. It’s pointless to shame the boy when he only has a small percentage of control in the situation. The best you can do with boys is encourage more condom use.

  • iHM

    It’s not bullying when you truly have made bad choices that harm others, and that’s what teenage pregnancy does. That’s like saying, “it’s wrong to berate people who neglect their children.” In my book, not preparing for your child, not providing a proper home for them – is neglect. And that’s what teenage pregnancy does. People are using these kind of messages to turn society around into an all-accepting place where it’s okay to do bad things because people are FORCED to accept it or be labelled a bully. Nobody’s taking the time to think about the children who teenage pregnancy destroys.

  • TAI

    That baby in the ad is so cute. On to the topic, shaming them is not the answer but trying to get young girls to understand the importance of focusing on their future and doing their best to NOT become teenage mothers. Celibacy should be the first thing, but I know that may be a long shot for most. But in today’s day and age, protection should be the first thing they should think about especially protecting themselves from diseases. Young girls, please be as responsible as you can if you’re not ready to be a parent. There are plenty of methods of birth control out here.

  • Shaming unwed mother? What kind of person are you wepo1?

    Age does not guarantee the quality of mother any one will be? there are plenty of older married mothers and fathers in dysfunctional marriages abusing their kids. when will society start shaming boys and their parents for not putting a lock on thier you know whats and not taking responsibility for boys being boys?

  • wepo1

    Good we all need to shame these unwed mothers!