Once upon a time, when a teenage girl got pregnant, it was a disgrace to the whole family. If the family could afford it, they’d send her away until she had the baby and then pretend she’d been on a church mission or some similar nonsense. With the rapid popularity of shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant there have been many reports that teen mothers just aren’t facing the negative stigma that was once the standard. While it may be true that teen pregnancy doesn’t generally lead to girls getting sent away anymore, the stigma and shaming and stereotyping they face from their peers really hasn’t changed all that much.
This fact was demonstrated quite ingeniously by a Washington teen named Gaby. According to reports Gaby was a start student at Toppenish High School in Washington who decided to look at the stigmatization of pregnant teens as the focus of her senior year project. She got permission from her principal, area superintendant, mother and her boyfriend and then started telling people she was pregnant. She even started wearing a fake baby bump to add believability to her claim. Then she started keeping track of the things her fellow students said about her.
After about 6 months, she then presented her findings to her fellow students at an assembly, even having them read aloud some of the things that were said about her. The rumors ranged from the common- she’s irresponsible, she’ll never go to college now, to more random like “Her attitude is changing, and it might be because of the baby or she was always this annoying and I never realized it.” Her experiment shows very clearly that although pop culture may be glamorizing teen pregnancy, teens themselves are just as judgmental as they always have been. Gaby is presenting her findings to a local advocacy group in the hopes of helping teens facing the same kind of judgments deal more effectively with it. Her story is also being made into a made for TV movie by The Lifetime Channel.
Teen pregnancy aside, being a teen is already riddled with the fears and insecurities that go along with becoming an adult. The lesson we need to learn from this story is twofold. First and foremost is that we must better educate our teens on how to avoid pregnancy and STD’s. Abstinence only sex education leaves our nation’s youth severely lacking the skills they need to protect themselves and further stigmatizes teens who do become pregnant. Secondly, we must better support those teens that become pregnant.
Repeat teens pregnancies are higher in the US than in most developed nations because even after becoming pregnant our system still fails to properly educate and equip teens with the knowledge they need. The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act recently introduced to Congress is a great step in the right direction to ensure teens get the information they need. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families the bill includes provisions to provide “‘age-appropriate comprehensive sex education programs” that are “medically accurate and evidence-based.”