Supporting Teen Parents without Shame

Lisette Orellana

Lisette Orellana

When I was 15 years old, I dreamed of changing the world. I don’t know what I was going to do—or how—but I knew that I’d make the world  better one day. I was a great student, and teachers always said I had a bright future ahead of me…until I got pregnant. I was in all honors classes, had a 4.0 GPA, but I was pregnant, and all the dreams I had were no longer going to be possible according to the adults in my life because well, I was going to be changing diapers instead.

Fast forward 11 years: I’m a 26-year old college graduate raising two amazing children. I’m employed by one of the most respected nonprofits in the world, and I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Over the last decade, I’ve been busy working with organizations that specifically work to support young parents. I’ve become an advocate about the issues affecting women and girls, and I have taken part in the development of campaigns that seek to raise awareness of the discrimination that teen mothers still face.

Enter my most recent involvement: speaking out against the disgraceful campaign PSA’s developed by the Candie’s Foundation.

Recently the Candie’s Foundation released a few ads that seek to shame teen parents—especially teen mothers. I’m not a stranger to these kinds of ads. A few months ago, the City of New York released posters all over the city with images of children that were so inappropriate, the campaign sparked much debate. The Candie’s Foundation is doing the same thing by assuming teen mothers have reached the end of the road and have no future. A slogan in their ad, “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not diapers,” has raised a lot of controversy—and, in my case, much disappointment.

I was told that exact same thing by a person I love very much. She didn’t believe in me and felt so sorry for my situation. But contrary to this dismal outlook, being a teen parent meant that I was going to need a little more support and encouragement to meet my goals. I was going to have to take a different road to reach the same destination as my peers without children: success. It is frustrating to me to see adults, as our role models, set this precedent of judging others because of their situations. It saddens me that despite the fact that there are laws in place (like Title IX), people still look at these ads and forget that teen parents are people, too. The Candie’s Foundation and its approach are shameful because the message is that teen parents will not make any valuable contributions to their communities. If anything, these young people will be loving parents to another human being and that is an accomplishment on its own.

I will continue to work with a group of young mothers who, like me, are working hard in their communities to support teen mothers. These young women are bloggers, professionals, and community activists who, like me, had their children early in life. There are thousands of us all over the country and we’re all leaving our mark. As far as the six of us, we’re working hard to deliver a petition to the Candie’s Foundation and ask for these ads and these tactics to be stopped. We’re doing all this gracefully because after all, that’s what leaders do.

Lisette Y. Orellana is a Blogger, Girls & Young Moms Advocate, and Public Speaker

What is your response to campaigns like the ones by the Candies Foundation and the City of New York?

How do we change the conversation, so that messages supporting delaying and spacing childbearing do not shame or vilify teen parents?

Leave a comment


  1. This is a great article, Lisette. I’m excited to find something like this. I have started a site meant to help young fathers like myself, so it’s great to see others aiming for the same goal. Great job.

  2. I commend you on your outstanding accomplishments! You’ve earned the right to speak out and you are taking your positive approach out to make the world a better place and that’s great.

    However, I’ve seen the Candie’s ads and don’t understand what you are taking exception to. They are simply a wake up call and incentive for pregnancy prevention. They aren’t putting down teen moms or saying they can’t be successful. They are just pointing out that it’s a lot easier to change the world if your energy isn’t divided before you’ve had the chance to learn what the world is all about. I think that’s a fair statement. You are not scum if you are a teen parent but you ARE tired and distracted and challenged to work extra hard to reach your goals. So why not take the steps to delay parenthood and set the foundation for your success and THEN bring a child into the picture?

    I think your sensitivity to the message may be allowing you to take it the wrong way. But as much as you love your children and have overcome all obstacles, would you really mentor a teen to not worry about the possible challenges of pregnancy and parenthood? Or would you encourage responsible and safe sex and planned pregnancies while one pursues their goal to change the world?

    We can support teen parents (and I do every day in the only alternative educational option in our state that supports the comprehensive needs of pregnant and parenting teens so that they CAN graduate and change the world) without demeaning, judging or sentencing them to failure. But you don’t have to be unrealistic and Pollyanna about teen parenthood in the process. Especially when 12 and 13 year olds are getting pregnant every day. I don’t think that’s what we want to encourage even while we uphold and support those that end up there.

  3. This is excellent! I loved reading your article. I am also a teen mother and I just want to say congratulations for everything you have accomplished! I had my son when I was 16 and my daughter when I was 18. I am a female, Hispanic, a teen mom etc. I play many roles and growing up with my children was very hard. I understand the stigma attached to being a teen parent. Thankfully I am in Graduate school now at West Texas A & M University and my children will be 7 and 5 this year. I have accomplished a lot but it took a lot of help of my community who did not judge me based on my actions. They were able to look past that and help me accomplish my goals. I am very grateful to have some amazing community members that understand that putting a teen mom down does not help her achieve success. I advocate for higher education and I have been looking for something like this to bring to my community. I would love to speak with you and share stories and information. Please contact me my email is I look forward to hearing from you!

  1. The Importance of an Inclusive Youth 360° Message for Adolescent Health and Well-Being: Statement from Healthy Teen Network on the Observance of the National Month to Prevent Teen Pregnancy | Under the Currents

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