NYC Teen Pregnancy Campaign's focus on negative was misplaced

The New York City Teen Pregnancy campaign should have focused on showing teens opportunities for those without a baby. Photo: It's hard being born

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2013  — “Swift” and “plentiful” are two adjectives to describe the outcry to New York City’s new anti-Teen pregnancy campaign posters and billboards.  The campaign consists of images of very young, sad and frowning children next to finger wagging quotes questioning their mom and dad’s choice to become  a parent at such a young age.

In one, an African American child is next to the words, “Honestly Mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” In another, a  curly-haired child with tears trickling down his face states, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”

All of the posters have the tag line: “Think being a teen parent won’t cost you?”

Opponents, including groups like Planned Parenthood , say the messages plastered on bus shelters and neighborhoods with high teen pregnancy rates are akin to shaming young girls. They say degrading teen parents will not work to curb the problem.

“Hurting and shaming communities is not what’s going to bring teen pregnancy rates down,” vice president for Education and Training at Planned Parenthood of New York City Haydee Morales told the New York Times. “It’s not teen pregnancies that cause poverty, but poverty that causes teen pregnancy

This week, commentary came in numerous forms. The Brookings Institution’s Richard Reeves extolled in a New York Times op Ed on Friday that shaming is kind of good and something liberals do often. Liberals have shamed society to be more accepting of gay individuals, into recycling to save the planet, into wearing less fur and in some cases, supporting local farmers.

On the flip side, a Time magazine online society writer opines that perhaps a solution is to pay young girls to avoid getting pregnant.

NYC Human Resources Admin Teen Pregnancy Prevention posters

“For every person who makes it to age 21 without becoming pregnant or impregnating someone else,” Erika Christakis writes, “the government should dip into the funds we’d otherwise spend caring for infants and teen moms and instead pay a significant cash bonus directly to the young person.”

Only problem with that is only 3% or so of teens do get pregnant annually so that would be quite a hefty bill for an already overburdened government. Nice try.

And while there have been examples where paying children to do well in school work has worked, the difference is positive reinforcement to do well versus positive reinforcement to avoid a certain behavior. The former is easier to control and predict than the latter.

Rather, what teen boys and girls really need is broad exposure to the world and all the opportunities that await them and can easily be accomplished and navigated without a child.

Traveling abroad. Getting an externship at a major theater production away from home. Attending a business workshop put on by a Diddy or a Russell Simmons in Los Angeles.  Getting  admission to an extensive course in starting one’s own barbershop. Access to an internship in New York City. The option to move to the next hottest city for radio DJs and blow up.

All of these opportunities would be made exponentially difficult and out of reach if one is saddled with a baby and all the responsibilities of having a child.

Equally so, access to mentors and tours to colleges and other environments could do wonders for exposing at-risk youth to a world that awaits them once they leave school.

One could even say growing up in a community where other teen parents are supported and accepted reinforces the point that teen pregnancy is not a significant problem.

Therefore, increased partnerships and programs connecting teen parents who struggled after having their babies with their peers not yet pregnant could show the reality of teen pregnancy.

The problem is poverty. It also has to do with self-esteem.  But mentoring and supporting households also factor in. One outreach and awareness campaign cannot address all these issues. Teen pregnancy is an epidemic that has to be tackled from all angles.

Any campaign going forward, whether on a billboard or some other effort, should incorporate programs that expose young men and women to all the world has to offer.

The concept must be drilled into their brains that starting a family too soon would curtail their chances for exploring many opportunities.

When you cannot imagine life beyond the narrow confines of your own neighborhood which consists of a 3 mile radius block, there is no wonder that you may throw caution to the wind and not think of the consequences of your actions. 


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
 
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
 
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
 
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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