When the yearbook committee of Mesa High School in Phoenix, Arizona, decided to include a two-page spread in the school’s yearbook dedicated to pregnant and parenting students, they may not have predicted the public outcry that would ensue.
The pages in the yearbook, titled, I’m Working a Double Shift, feature an intimate look at some of the student parents at the school, with adorable pictures of the teens with their children and even quotes from some of the parents on the joys and challenges of teen parenting.
The local community responded strongly to the inclusion of the teen parents. Although a spokesperson from the high school states that the yearbook will stand as is and points out that the students are simply including a "reality" from their own lives, some parents simply can't swallow what they see as shameful.
"When you look at the pages at first, you think it is of a child development class," one mother said. "But then if you look closer, you see the photo of the boy hugging the belly. I think that was unnecessary."
Perhaps for some parents, the unseemly sight of teen parents and pregnant bellies doesn't fit into their view of what is appropriate for high school. But the reality is that teen pregnancy exists and those students do not deserve to be shamed or excluded from their school's yearbook.
As a mother who had my daughter young and while I was still in school, I can attest to the fact that the biggest struggle with having an early pregnancy is feeling like you simply don't fit in. I was pregnant while I was still in college, and still, even in that "older" environment, no one likes to acknowledge that pregnant students have a place in an educational institution. I commend Mesa High School for tactfully acknowledging the hard work that these young parents have gone through and will continue to go through. Young mothers and fathers already feel enough shame — let's not add to it by deeming their lives unworthy for a high school yearbook.
In a tale as old as time, parents in the community have expressed concern that the decision to include teen parents in the yearbook is "glamorizing" teenage pregnancy and not adequately representing how hard it can be. Of course, I agree with them that there are unique challenges to teen parenting and that there will be struggles. But is the teen mother juggling work and school and a baby working any less hard than the class president who runs track and is on every after-school committee? It's not about exposing the struggles of teen parenting, it's about the fact that teen pregnancy makes people uncomfortable, period.
Gloria Malone, a young mother who had her daughter at age 15 and blogs at Teen Mom NYC is an outspoken advocate for teen mothers. "I think what really shocks people is that we [teen parents] are more than just stats and PSA photos," she says. Malone is no stranger to the struggles of being a teenage mother, yet she is frustrated with how we constantly belittle teen parents and expect less out of them. "As society we put so many limits on teenage mothers, like myself," she goes on to say. "And then when we do achieve things they said we wouldn't and we want to celebrate our success we are reprimanded for our successes? What sense does that make?"
Contrary to the popular belief that shows like MTV's 16 and Pregnant or even the scandal of a two-page spread in a high school yearbook will increase teen pregnancies, highlighting and discussing teen pregnancy has not translated into a mad rush of teens trying to get pregnant. On the contrary, new data from The Guttmacher Institute shows that teen pregnancy in the U.S. is the lowest it has been in over 30 years.
Under no conditions would I ever encourage a teenager to purposefully get pregnant, although I will say that our current practice of saying all young motherhood is a bad idea needs a second look. But recognizing it is not the same as encouraging it, or even condoning it. Once a teen is pregnant or has decided to take on parenting, he or she deserves to be commended, not condemned and it serves no purpose to demand that they hide in shame simply for trying to do their best. Talking about the issue of teenage pregnancy might even help parents and their children have a more open and honest discussion about what they want out of their lives.
And there is no shame in that.
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