I got good grades in school. I had my first job by 16, and was a manager by 18. I stayed out of trouble. I can count my lifetime boyfriends on one hand. I was 22-years-old when I became pregnant with my first son. My long-term partner at the time– who is now my husband– and I made the decision to have a baby, educated ourselves, prepared for having a baby, and then I came off my birth control. Our child was planned. I was confused, being that I had done everything the ‘right’ way, why at my first prenatal appointment I was being shot dirty looks. The looks continued, along with some comments that confused me further. Then during an appointment some months later, as my doctor explained a condition that was discovered during prenatal screening, he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll bounce back, you’re only 16.” I quickly corrected him, “I’m 22.” His expression muddied, and he began flipping through my file as if I was lying to him. This was the first time I realized people thought I was a teen mom based on my young appearance. Now 25, and the mother of two toddler boys, I have a hard-earned respect for teen moms. The assumptions, negativity and outspoken opinions of others are often disheartening – even when you only look like a teen mom. I was shocked even a doctor, and his staff, had such feelings for young mothers.
A change in perspective:
When I sat down and really thought about it, I’d fallen to the same stereotype before. I’d seen young moms drop out of school, and in the back of my head thought, “Great, another irresponsible welfare monkey on the working classes’ backs.” In some cases, I may have been right. In some cases, I’m sure all the horrible things people assume about teen moms are correct and validated, but some is not all.
I decided to approach my youthful appearance problem in a proactive way that took a stand against stereotypes that face teen mothers, rather than being embarrassed by it. After all, when other moms are 40, they’ll look 40 and I won’t. I should be proud of looking like a teen mom, not ashamed.
The next time someone made a snide comment about my age and pregnancy, I started a conversation. We talked for awhile about teen pregnancy, and her views regarding teenage moms. Her views matched up pretty well with the typical stereotype, but after some time, she commented she was sorry, she felt I was “different,” the rare exception. I calmly replied, “You can tell the difference then? If teen moms are so obvious, so easy to spot for their negligence, drug use, promiscuity and irresponsibility, you could pick them out from a crowd”? She nodded. I reached for my wallet, and showed her my driver’s license which from first glance was clearly an Alaskan over the age of 21 ID. The look on her face was priceless. Someday people will realize that any mother, despite age, can be a good parent, or a bad parent. The same way at any age assumptions, stereotypes, and unprovoked cruelty can make you a bad person. People can change at any age. It may sound stereotypical, but change really does start with you.
Finding where change is needed:
-The majority of teen moms really aren’t on welfare. As of 2010, roughly 25% of teen moms end up receiving welfare in some shape or form. This means nearly 75% don’t end up on welfare. However, 90% of all welfare recipients with children are single mothers. 70% of those mothers are over the age of 24. Only 30% of those recipients weren’t currently working, or hadn’t recently. This shows that single-parent families are at a disadvantage income wise no matter their age, though in most cases it is not a result of laziness. Those throwing stones need to remember that raising a child while working is hard no matter what age you become pregnant. Everyone needs help sometimes, that’s what welfare is for.
-The majority of teen moms don’t graduate high school. This is true. Only 38% of teen moms graduate. Overall, however, only 71% of all students graduate to begin with. If you take this into account, teen moms are only about a third less likely to graduate. Many teen moms, I know personally, were either forced out of school by teachers and staff, or their peers’ ridicule. Teenage and pregnant or not, everyone should be welcome in public schools, and everyone should graduate.
While most other teen parent stereotypes don’t have statistical data or studies to look at, its important to remember that things are not always what they appear, until you wake up in someone else’s position, you have no right to assume how they got there, or where they’ll go from there.
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