Refuting the “Freebie” Theory on Teen Pregnancy

Valerie Sedivy

Are your good intentions actually encouraging teen pregnancy?

Crazy as it sounds, it’s a question many of those who support young families find themselves having to answer. (As if this work wasn’t already hard enough!) While working last week with professionals who support teen parents, I learned that many professionals struggle to respond to accusations that by providing essential resources such as diapers and car seats to teen parents, they are encouraging more young women to become pregnant. Many in the room nodded their heads when one of these professionals recalled being told, “You are giving these girls so much free stuff; everybody’s going to want to get pregnant!”

You know and I know that young women do not become pregnant “for the freebies,” but how do we convince others that this is the case?

It turns out that many of these professionals have some sound strategies up their sleeves to combat these misperceptions. One program manager has developed a presentation that she shares with community leaders and partners. Among other things, the presentation includes a comparison of the dollar value of the resources they provide with the dollars required to support a child, showing that the resources they provide are really just a drop in the bucket when you consider the financial needs of these young parents.

Others have gone even further to address this concern by requiring those who receive these goods and services to attend school and special programs designed to build their skills as parents. Teens get “points” or “baby bucks” for meeting requirements, which can then be redeemed for baby products. But it’s not enough to simply have these incentive programs in place; they must be accompanied by communication efforts so that anyone concerned may understand that these parents are not receiving a reward for becoming pregnant.

Some other professionals make use of the abundance of scientific literature showing that teen pregnancy has a multitude of causes, but the promise of free products is not one of them. They also use the literature to show that efforts to support teen parents improve prospects for these young mothers, as well as their children.

What about you? Have your efforts to support teen parents caused you to be accused of promoting teen pregnancy? How have you responded?

Valerie Sedivy, Ph.D. is a Project Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

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