In recent years, teen pregnancy in the US has been at an all -time low. From 2012 to 2013, teen birth rates decreased among 15–19 year olds by 9% for non-Hispanic whites and 11% for non-Hispanic blacks. If there are fewer teenage pregnancies, why is it that so many people still make it such a shameful thing to be pregnant as a teenager? I’ve heard people say that teenagers back in the day didn’t have the same opportunities that teenagers have now, so why mess it up by having a baby at a young age? I’ve also heard that today’s teenagers are just not as mature as teenagers in years past. Clearly, stereotyping teens who become parents at a young age has not changed through the years.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to a great group of teens who, with the help of their school, are breaking stereotypes. (For the sake of privacy, their names and the location of the school will not appear in this article.)
What is unusual about these teen parents is that they bring their children to the high school they attend. They are able to continue their high school education with assistance provided by the school through a literacy program developed in order for teen parents to graduate. These parents bring their children to school every day and drop them off at the daycare center while they go to class, but they also have to be active with their children during the school day. They still have to change their diapers, they still have to feed them, and they still have to participate in supporting their needs in between their classes. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been easy for these teens. They have heard it all, and they have gone through their share of struggles in order to achieve their dreams while they continue to provide a home for their children.
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Each has a unique story. One became pregnant at the age of 15. Another had two children by the age of 18. A young dad had a son at 17 as the result of a planned pregnancy with his girlfriend. These parents might be young in age, but they had more wisdom than most adults I’ve spoken to. They have heard every negative comment you can think of — You’re making a mistake, your life is over, why don’t you have an abortion, you’re too young — and the list seemingly never ends.
They’ve been kicked out of their parents’ homes. Some have very little, if any, support from the other biological parent. Some live on their own, in their own apartments, and not only go to school but also balance a work life.
One would think that with so much negativity coming at them, they would not be happy. But they are. Watching these parents with their children during a high school period was one of the highlights of my day. Listening to their stories and seeing the love that they have for their children was priceless.
They have goals and dreams, just as any other people. Is it difficult to manage all of the things they face? Yes it is, but if there is one thing that they have, it is determination. They don’t see their children as something to be ashamed of. In fact, the only dad in the group I spoke to said, “My son is a gift.” As I continued to listen to their stories, I saw myself in them.
You see, I too was a teen mom. I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 18, dropped out of high school and, just like the teens I met, was told some very discouraging things. I was considered a failure, my life over. I was labeled a whore for having sex out of marriage. I was made to feel that I didn’t know how to be a mother; just because I was young, my mothering was questioned. I was a Puerto Rican single mom from Chicago. I had every strike against me. For awhile I believed that my life was over, that I was destined to live only a life of changing diapers and running around after a child.
But ultimately, I used the very words meant to harm me as fuel to prove people wrong. The young parents I spoke with are doing the same.
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We didn’t let a child stop us from achieving our dreams. We didn’t let the struggles stop us from living fulfilling lives and moving forward. We didn’t let our children be a barrier. In fact, those children, the ones that society tells us we should be ashamed of, are the incentive for us to work harder, achieve more, and keep fighting to achieve our goals and to give our children a good life. There is no shame in having a child as a teenager. Women have been having babies at a young age for centuries! There is no shame in going to school and being a parent while you are a teenager. What is shameful is when people stereotype young teen parents.
I have achieved every single one of the goals that I set out to achieve, even after having three more children. I achieved my dreams while having four children and being a single mom. Instead of feeding teens with negative thoughts and words that are hurtful, why not let them know they are doing a great job parenting and that they can achieve anything they want in life?
Having a child doesn’t stop a full-grown adult from living her life and achieving her dreams. It shouldn’t stop a teen parent, either.
[Feature Image: Photograph of a light-skinned woman with upswept brown hair holding a light-skinned child with blonde hair. The woman is planting a kiss on the child’s cheek. A blurred field is visible behind them.]