#NoTeenShame: A Universal Goal

Natasha with her daughter Nelly

Natasha with her daughter Nelly

#NoTeenShame is a movement and a campaign serving as the public voice on the issue of teen pregnancy and the unnecessary stigmatization of teen parents. Created by a group of seven young mothers across the country—some of whom have never met in person–#NoTeenShame believes no young person should be shamed for his or her reproductive choices. Our goal this May is to continue highlighting successful relationships with organizations within our communities who are working in safe, inclusive ways.

Our progress on this movement may have started in 2013 when we initially launched a counter-campaign against #NoTeenPreg, but the truth is that our growth on the issue started long before we knew we were advocates. We had already spent years reflecting on our experiences and trying to make sense of the way teen pregnancy prevention has been framed.

For too long, our children have been dehumanized as public health issues and epidemics on the same list as all the other consequences of practicing unsafe sex, like AIDS, HIV, and STIs. There has been this narrow description of teen pregnancy force-fed into our culture that claimed teen pregnancy had a simple solution: shame teen moms and use them to scare teens. But missing from this discussion was the structural framework and institutional inequities that perpetuate the dichotomy between teen parenthood and success.

As young moms and self-determined advocates, we search through sites and teen pregnancy prevention campaigns and review connected strategic messaging materials for constructive and deconstructive frames—exactly in the way the Healthy Teen Network so amazingly put it—with  the focus on finding a solution.

We’re young moms and we know what the research says. The statistics may point to our likeliness of failing, but we recognize that there aren’t many researchers pursuing new questions and data sources that work to create new frames. How many researchers are collecting data on how the birth of a child can sometimes improve a teen’s life, prompting him/her to go back to school or push harder? How many researchers are asking whether or not an at-risk youth may be more likely to succeed after having a child and sense of new purpose? How many researchers are collecting data on the harmful effects on entire communities when shame-based approaches are used?

If we had more of those kinds of data, we wouldn’t have to constantly turn to our own individual stories, sometimes exploiting the most traumatic moments of our life, for the news and media, in hopes of shifting this negative dialogue to an already often disapproving society. The negative statistics and data realistically set up the dichotomy between teen pregnancy and success. When a teen parent does reach any level of society’s driven definition of success, he or she is “otherized” and perceived as the exception from parenting peers. And the same negative data continue to otherize teen parents from their non-parenting peers, who prior to being exposed to negative messaging, may have been more supportive of teen parents.

Harassment, bullying, discrimination—it’s against Title IX regulations to treat an expectant and parenting student in these ways, but it continues to happen on a daily basis. (In fact, just less than a month ago, Massachusetts revised the state’s Bullying Bill to include expectant and parenting students within the language of targeted youth.) And while bullying and harassment is often expected only from student peers, we know teen parents are often shamed, stigmatized, otherized, bullied, and harassed by adults within the school’s administration.

In my own story, three of my teachers and a guidance counselor made it their mission to ensure my experiences in school weren’t easy. One teacher would use my growing belly as an example of making irresponsible choices; another would compare other struggling teen parents to my ability to balance schoolwork “better than them.” I remember my guidance counselor telling me it would have been a waste of our time to apply to colleges because “statistics say…,” and another teacher reprimanding me in front of my class for “using my sick child as an excuse” to miss class.

#NoTeenShame subscribes to the belief that our culture is capable of doing better. It takes leaders within organizations to step up and acknowledge that language needs to change. It takes allies who listen to us and develop their own strategies for improving their work. It takes those with privilege and power to continue putting tools and frameworks together to spark the change our culture so desperately needs. And it takes strong young mothers across the country to help shift the way our culture perceives and defines motherhood for others.

Change happens at the edge of the system, at the very rim of impossible. And it’s through connectivity, activism, and collective impact that makes things like #NoTeenShame a universal goal.

Natasha Vianna is an advocate for young families and member of #NoTeenShame, a movement led by seven young mothers, Natasha Vianna, Gloria Malone, Lisette Orellana, Marylouise Kuti-Schubert, Jasmin Colon, Christina Martinez, and Consuela Greene, to improve strategic messaging campaigns and conversation around young parenting to a non-stigmatizing and non-shaming approach.

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

Positive News

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

As Healthy Teen Network participates in the 13th annual observance of the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, we are encouraged by the news that rates of pregnancies and births to United States youth below age 20 have declined over the past two decades.[1] Landmark research by John Santelli and others suggests that this decline is entirely attributable to increased contraceptive use among older youth (18 and 19 years old) and primarily attributable to improved contraceptive use among 15- to 17-year olds.[2] This evidence implies that further reductions in teen pregnancies and births will occur when more youth can gain access to contraceptives and, associated with that access, education and skills about using contraceptives—such as negotiating contraceptive use between sex partners. Thus we are encouraged by the recent release of new recommendations outlining how to provide quality family planning services by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Population Affairs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[3]We hope these recommendations will spark continued improvements in family planning services to adolescents.

Positive news notwithstanding, teen pregnancies and births continue to occur in high rates. Contributing to this condition are believed to be factors such as low sexual health literacy and discomfort among some adult family members in discussing matters of sexuality with their children; lack of universal school-based comprehensive sexuality education; inability to implement teen pregnancy prevention (TPP) evidence-based interventions (EBIs) on a widespread basis due to cost and complexity and low levels of public funding; unavailability of TPP EBIs tailored to some marginalized subpopulations; policies and practices that prevent youth from accessing contraceptives; and behavior messages from media that glamorize sexual activity. And then there are the constellation of social determinants, including poverty and intimate partner violence, which compound the problem. Clearly, teen pregnancy is not a single issue focus or fix, but one that requires collaboration from multiple agencies and individuals, and especially youth.

A Month to Educate, Energize, and Empower

Like many others working in the adolescent sexual and reproductive health field, Healthy Teen Network uses the opportunity presented by the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month to educate the public, press, and policymakers of the work that remains to be done to reduce teen pregnancy rates in the United States. We also utilize the Month to energize our field and validate its excellent work. And certainly, the Month provides an opportunity to empower and showcase young people who are leading efforts in their schools and communities to educate peers about sexual and reproductive health, or who are simply taking a moment to educate themselves about the risk factors and protective factors of teen pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the Month also becomes the season when negative messages around teen pregnancy crop up. Most harmful are messages that teen parents are “bad girls making bad choices.”  Healthy Teen Network opposes such shaming. We refuse to assign negative value to any young person due to his or her parenting status. Nor do we forget that pregnancy among and births to teens (and adults for that matter) is not always a choice. We congratulate the young mothers who have persisted in a messaging campaign and movement, #NoTeenShame, to raise awareness regarding the unnecessary exploitation and stigmatization of teen mothers.[4]

Furthermore, negative messages about teen parents exclude them from important sub-messaging around pregnancy prevention: the delaying and spacing of subsequent childbearing. Healthy Teen Network asserts that with support and resources, adolescents who are parents can be effective parents. For us, there cannot be an inclusive National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month without including teen parents in the conversation and the solution.

Also of concern are messages that suggest teen parenting is costly to the public[5]—another form of shaming, but in a public policy context. We recognize the surface attractiveness of this message. It can be an effective tactic to engage those who are unpersuaded by explanations of the social-ecological causes of teen pregnancy and parenting and more prone to assign blame to teen parents for personal failings. But we must be cautious and strategic in its use, or we risk damage to teen families.

Moreover, cost arguments about teen parenting have their own set of pitfalls. These arguments operate on a disease prevention theory. Healthy Teen Network does not ascribe to this theory, as we do not consider teen pregnancy or parenting to be a disease in need of treatment. Rather, it is a fact of life affecting a small number of U.S. youth and their families annually. Yes, in order to be prepared to fully participate in modern life, adolescents and young adults need generous opportunities to pursue education and other enrichments—opportunities which are enhanced by delaying and spacing childbearing. Prevention is a priority for Healthy Teen Network. But so is supporting those young people with children

Investing in Our Youth and Families

Public costs associated with raising and supporting children and families are not unique or isolated to teen families. Having children is costly to society, regardless of the age of the parent. We have reached an obvious conclusion that children are good for a society (minimally for the society’s self-preservation), and that the benefits outweigh the costs—the costs are, truly, investments.

These cost arguments tend to characterize public expenditures for supporting teen families as “burdens.” Granted, there may be higher costs to raising children born to teens because this population tends to need additional supports due to the economic status and developmental stage of the teen parent. Healthy Teen Network suggests instead that these costs also are investments. A classic illustration is that studies report high public health insurance (i.e., Medicaid) costs associated with teen families. We would counter-argue: isn’t it more cost-efficient to health insure a family than not? And would we deny publicly-funded health insurance to families simply because of the age of the parent?  The reality is that some of our nation’s families are fragile due to all manner of causes, and that fragility does not discriminate by parental age. The American people do not want any of our nation’s families to fail.  Healthy Teen Network asserts that teen families should not be allowed to fail either.

Like most parents, pregnant and parenting teens are extremely motivated to offer their children a good life. They quickly realize that an education and a career are necessary, and with the right supports, they will complete high school and eagerly seek further education or training. With help from their families, other caring adults, and public and private asset-building resources and services, they can avoid some of the challenges they might otherwise face. Healthy Teen Network’s new infographic, “Picture Perfect: A Snapshot of What Helps Teen Families Grow & Thrive,” illustrates these opportunities.[6]

An Inclusive, Youth 360° Approach

In fact, what helps teen families grow and thrive is not so very different from what helps all families thrive. To improve outcomes (that is, to reduce teen pregnancies and births), we need to recognize the complex interrelated factors, or social determinants—such as access to quality education and health services, life goals and aspirations for the future, or healthy relationships—that influence individual behavior and health outcomes. How and where we live, learn, and play affects every one of us—our health and well-being, even our life span. And so, Healthy Teen Network uses an inclusive, Youth 360° approach to achieve better outcomes for youth across diverse populations, including, most certainly, pregnant and parenting teens.

Not only as we observe the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, but every day, let’s indeed keep our attention on the important work already done and that must continue to support adolescent sexual and reproductive health. But let’s also be sure not to punish teen families, either by shaming them for their life circumstances or by depriving them (or even suggesting to deprive them) of the publicly-funded resources and services they require—just as do older adult-led families—to thrive as contributing members of our American community. A Youth 360° approach to not just prevention, but overall adolescent sexual and reproductive health, is the inclusive and positive messaging we must model to educate, to energize, and to empower not only our field, but the youth, the public, the press, and the policymakers as well.

About Healthy Teen Network

Healthy Teen Network is the only national membership organization with an inclusive, integrated focus on the sexual and reproductive health and well-being of adolescents and young adults, including pregnant and parenting teens. We provide capacity-building assistance for professionals and youth-serving organizations to ensure they have the resources and training to support youth. We believe society has an obligation to empower all adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, to have the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

President and CEO, Patricia Paluzzi, DrPH, CNM, has been active in the fields of reproductive and maternal and child health for over 30 years, as a clinician, researcher, administrator, and advocate. She has served as the visionary leader for Healthy Teen Network since 2003, building momentum for inclusive, integrated adolescent sexual and reproductive health care and services. 


[1] Office of Adolescent Health. (n.d.). Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/reproductive-health/teen-pregnancy/trends.html

[2] Santelli, J., Duberstein Lindberg, L, Finer, L. & Susheela, S. (2007). Explaining Recent Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy in the United States: The Contribution of Abstinence and Improved Contraceptive Use. American Journal of Public Health; 97(1): 150–156.

[3]Gavin, L, Moskosky, S., Carter, M., et al. Providing Quality Family Planning Services: Recommendations of CDC and the U.S. Office of Population Affairs. MMWR 2014;63(No. 4). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr6304.pdf

[4] Vianna, N., Malone, G., Orellana, L., Colon, J., Martinez, C, Kuti-Schubert, M., Green, C. (2013). #NoTeenShame. Retrieved from  http://noteenshame.tumblr.com/

[5] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (2013). Counting It Up: Key data. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://thenationalcampaign.org/resource/counting-it-key-data-2013

[6] Gilmore, C., Eisler, A. (2014). Picture Perfect: A Snapshot of what helps teen families grow & thrive. Baltimore, Maryland: Healthy Teen Network. Retrieved from https://healthyteennetwork.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/picture-perfect_final.jpg

Picture Perfect: A Snapshot of What Helps Teen Families Grow & Thrive (Infographic)

Picture Perfect_FINALPregnant and parenting teens are extremely motivated to offer their children a good life, and with the right supports, they can be successful adults and parents. Healthy Teen Network’s new infographic, “Picture Perfect: A Snapshot of What Helps Teen Families Grow & Thrive,” illustrates the diverse and unique needs teen parents have with growing up and building a healthy family.

Alexandra Eisler

Alexandra Eisler

The “Picture Perfect” infographic was designed by Cheri Gilmore, who is a former teen mom, in partnership with Healthy Teen Network Training and Technical Assistance Manager, Alexandra Eisler. Cheri volunteered for this project through Catchafire, a skills-based volunteer matchmaking service for nonprofit organizations. Cheri was drawn to Healthy Teen Network because, she explained, “I understand and value the importance of vital resources this organization provides in the support of young families.”

The content in the infographic draws on the best practices and research described in the Healthy Teen Network publication A BDI Logic Model for Working with Young Families Resource Kit. This infographic can be shared electronically or printed as an 11”x17” color poster. (Click on the infographic above to enlarge.)

More About Cheri Gilmore

Cheri Gilmore

Cheri Gilmore

Originally from Festus, MO Cheri enjoys photography, graphic arts, cooking, jewelry sales, and, of course, spending time with family and friends. She is a former teen mom, residing with her husband Mark in Festus with their children, Kayla, 25, Kyle 23, and Draven 8.  They also have two grandchildren Ellie, 4 and Rocco, 1.

Suggested Citation: Gilmore, C., Eisler, A. (2014). Picture Perfect: A Snapshot of what helps teen families grow & thrive. Baltimore, Maryland: Healthy Teen Network. https://healthyteennetwork.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/picture-perfect_final.jpg


Full Circle, Youth 360°: An Inclusive Approach to Achieve Better Outcomes for Youth

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

Pat Paluzzi

A few years ago, Healthy Teen Network interviewed several teen parents. Hearing their experiences highlights the complexity of factors and situations that affect their health and well-being.

Uniqwa speaks on education, sharing how support services that helped her find child care and transportation allowed her to successfully complete school.

Lisette recognizes the importance of supporting teen parents because of the potential impact not just for the parent, but for the child as well.

These brief interview clips bring to life the reality that how and where we live, learn, and play matters. These factors affect every one of us—our health and well-being, even our life span.

Elements such as

  • Geographic location,
  • Shelter,
  • Food,
  • Security,
  • Socioeconomic status,
  • Education and employment opportunities,
  • Health services,
  • Relationships,
  • Recreational opportunities,
  • The media,
  • And so much more,

Shape our long-term physical, mental, emotional, and social health and well-being.

If we want to achieve better outcomes for youth across diverse populations, we must consider this range of elements—or, social determinants of health—for the individual, in our society, communities, and relationships. A 360°, inclusive approach allows us to do just that…Youth 360°.

Addressing the social determinants of health is not a new concept. Probably, many of you are already incorporating these ideas into your work. The Youth 360° Frame brings to light these complex, interrelated elements, and it supports innovative ways of thinking about what we do, and what youth need to thrive.

Whether you are already using this approach, or you are ready to start learning more, Healthy Teen Network offers a variety of capacity-building assistance and resources.

  • View the Youth 360° online presentation, through Prezi.
  • Meet professionals from around the country to network and share innovative strategies and research using the Youth 360° Frame and social determinants of health. Save the Date for Healthy Teen Network’s 2014 Conference, Synergy: Achieving More Together, in Austin, Texas, October 21-24, 2014.
  • Coming soon: a multimedia presentation of case studies with real life examples of an inclusive, collaborative approach, where professionals bring theory to life to support and empower youth. Also in development are fact sheets on the social determinants of health. But you can download the first fact sheet now, an overview, on our website, along with many other resources.


The Youth 360° frame allows us to increase our impact, building collaboration beyond the adolescent sexual and reproductive health field and achieving better outcomes for youth across diverse populations, including marginalized youth and pregnant and parenting teens. Read more about Healthy Teen Network’s strategic plan to promote the use of the Youth 360° frame.

How do you work to provide an inclusive approach for programs and services for youth?

Have you found ways to establish partnerships, to address some of the elements that are relevant to the youth you serve, but are beyond your organization’s capacity to address (e.g., housing)?

Pat Paluzzi is the President/CEO of Healthy Teen Network.

Lisa Carter: Victory and Triumph

Lisa Carter and Family

Lisa Carter and Family

“Her journey, though wrought with obstacles nearly every step of the way, speaks victory and triumph.”

This short excerpt from a nomination letter for Lisa Carter, the 2013 Outstanding Teen Parent Awardee, paints just one small part of the picture, but tells so much. When she was nominated for the award that she ultimately ended up winning at last year’s Healthy Teen Network Conference, other words and themes that consistently emerged in her nominating materials were terms like “dedicated,” “inspiring,” and “hard-working.”

Shortly after being placed into foster care at the age of 12, Lisa became pregnant with her first child. At 19, she had a second child. Early on, it was clear that Lisa had a passion–not to mention a very special gift–to support and encourage young people to reach their goals. Her role as a Teen Advisor at the Adolescent Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative in Boston, in which she coordinated events to promote teen pregnancy prevention and educated teens about making healthy decisions and the importance of goal setting, was just the first of many invaluable ways she has worked to support healthy youth.

Currently, Lisa, who earned her Bachelors degree from the University of Massachusetts, works for Communities In Schools, a drop-out prevention organization, located in Charlotte, NC. “I help guide, and not be judgmental,” she explains of her work, stressing that teens need goals, positive feedback, and most of all education.

When learning that she had been chosen to receive the award, Lisa thought, “Wow–24 years later [after the birth of my son], and there’s an organization that wants to honor me for the work I’ve done. I didn’t even know there was such an award,” she says. “There are programs for [pregnant teens and young parents], and things of that nature, but once you phase out of those programs, you’re sort of off living life and you don’t hear much about how [people in the programs] are doing later on in life, so it’s amazing that [Healthy Teen Network] honors moms and dads. I really, really appreciated that.”

How important do you think it is to help teens you work with set goals? What strategies have you found successful in helping them set goals and achieve them?

Blog Roundup

Check out some recent blog posts we found interesting. Hope you do, too!

When Bitter Breakups and Digital Photography Meet: What to Teach Our Kids About Revenge Porn

“Revenge porn,” a term used to describe cyberbullying that includes posting sexually explicit pictures of someone else, has become so prevalent that some states have passed specific laws to punish this behavior. What should kids be taught about this?

As parents and educators, I think our responsibility is two-fold. First, we have to remind those growing up in this digital age of what should not but can happen to the pictures you decide to take. We need to teach young people to do a gut check before they hit send.

Mental Health Day: What About Teen Parents?

Gloria Malone examines why the mental health of teen parents is often overlooked, and how we can change that.

In the event that we feel strong enough to speak to someone about our struggles and how we feel broken our confessions are met with hurtful statements like: “That’s what you get. You made your bed now lay in it.” “No one told you to get pregnant.” “Oh you don’t like being an adult? Then you shouldn’t have done adult things” and even more hurtful and abusive comments.

At-Risk vs. At-Promise Youth

The term “at-risk youth” is familiar to most, but what about the lesser-used “at-promise”?

While reviewing research regarding at-risk youth and prevention strategies, I was introduced to a term I hadn’t heard before: At-promise youth.  Proponents of the term say it describes youth as having capacity to be successful, rather than implying (through the term “at-risk”) that lower socio-economic kids lack potential to achieve success.

Candy Corn, Cold Weather, and Conversations…

It’s never too early to begin communicating with your children in age-appropriate ways about sex, love, and relationships. The topics can be difficult, however, for parents to broach. This blog post from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy provides tips and resources to make this type of important conversation a little easier for parents.

Believe it or not, despite the glazed looks in their eyes and the horrified expressions on their faces, teens consistently say that parents–not peers, not partners, and not pop culture–MOST influence their decisions about sex.  In fact, according to our most recent Survey Says polling report, teens say it would be much easier for them to avoid pregnancy if they were able to talk more openly with their parents about these topics.

Studies Look at Access to Family Planning Services Provided at Federally Qualified Health Centers

Contraception recently published two studies that look at the types and access to family planning services provided at community health clinics that are “considered a popular primary care option for low-income women of reproductive age.” This blog post from Our Bodies Ourselves includes important findings and implications from each study.

The studies, produced by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health, examine the services at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). These health clinics provide primary and preventive care on a sliding scale, primarily to low-income and uninsured patients. It’s also worth noting that when states attempt to defund Planned Parenthood clinics, these are clinics to which many women may get directed for care.

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?

Allowing Teen Parents the Safe Space to Share Parenting Challenges

Gina Desiderio

Several months ago, Glennon Melton’s blog post, “Don’t Carpe Diem,” was making the rounds on social media, with frequent reposts and shares on Facebook and Twitter. Many of my fellow parent friends were sharing the link, recognizing the truth in her argument. Melton notes that parents of young children are often told to cherish the moment—“carpe diem”—while their children are young because they grow up so fast…and yet it’s often hard to cherish the moment when your toddler is kicking and screaming on the floor of the grocery store, and you’re just trying to pay and get out of the store. As a parent of a two year-old and a five month-old, I can see the merit in her argument; there are a lot of good times when your children are this young, but it can also be very difficult at times. Melton encourages fellow parents to release the guilt they may feel that they aren’t always seizing the day.

And while Melton’s post speaks to parents at large, I wonder how many people would feel that this attitude should also apply to teen parents. Are we as a society at large as forgiving or sympathetic when we see a teen parent who looks exhausted, juggling one or more children? I know I get smiles and reassuring looks from other parents while I’m wrangling a baby in a 25-pound infant seat and an independent toddler wanting to run through a parking lot. When I’m grocery shopping with a baby strapped on and a toddler in the car, I frequently get comments, accompanied by a smile and friendly face, about how I have my hands full.

But would a teen parent get the same comforting looks? Do we recognize that it’s hard at times to be a parent, and all parents deserve a break? Or are we more judgmental? Do we place higher standards for teen parents because their pregnancy was unplanned and they are still a teen?

Certainly, we at Healthy Teen Network believe that in order to be prepared to fully participate in modern life, adolescents and young adults need generous opportunities to pursue education and other enrichments—opportunities which are enhanced by delaying and spacing childbearing. However, once a teen makes the choice to parent, we also believe that with caring support and resources, adolescents and young adults can be effective parents and successful adults.

The support part is important. All parents need support, and that includes the permission not to always carpe diem. It is supportive to allow teen parents the space to share the frustrations of parenthood, to hear similar stories of parenting challenges, with fellow parents, teen or otherwise. Just the comforting face shared while dealing with a toddler meltdown can help make a parent feel not quite so alone…or at least not so embarrassed. If a 20- or 30- or 40-something parent needs support and an opportunity to vent, doesn’t it follow that a teen parent also needs the same safe space, maybe even more so, given where s/he may be, developmentally?

Allowing teen parents the opportunity to vent these frustrations, without judgment or recrimination for “getting pregnant” can help the teen to grow as a person and as a parent. The teen has decided to parent, and with it comes the joys and struggles of parenthood, and sometimes, parents—including teen parents—just don’t want to “carpe diem,” and that’s okay…to be expected, even.

How do you create a safe space for teen parents to share the joys and struggles of parenthood? How do you help teen parents deal with the judgment they often face out in the world?

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network.

Lisa’s Story, Part II

If you missed Part I of Lisa’s story, you can read it here.

Lisa was sad to see Pablo walk out of her life and little Angela’s. He did exactly what his dad did to him and what he said he would never do. After multiple fights and marital counseling sessions, he left their tiny bedroom weeks before Angela’s first birthday. Since then, Lisa has been juggling several housing options. At first, she stayed with her parents but the relationship with her mother deteriorated and she needed to get out. She rented a room for herself and Angela in a two-bedroom apartment she could afford with her salary.

Currently, her mother takes care of little Angela. This means that every morning at 6am, Lisa and Angela travel one hour by bus to Lisa’s mom’s house. Lisa then takes a 45-minute bus ride to her job where she works until 3pm. She takes the bus back to her mom’s house and they return to their home at 8pm. If Lisa were driving, the commute to drop Angela off would only take 20 minutes then just 10 minutes to her job. The extra two hours commuting by bus daily is really taking a toll on her life and the quality of the little time she has with her daughter. A few days a month she is in charge of closing the store at 9pm, but the last bus leaves at 8pm. Lisa relies on friends and taxis to get her to her mom’s house. With one taxi ride she spends the equivalent of one hour’s wages.

With only a high school education and no legal documentation, she is lucky to get a stable job at a clothing store with a salary slightly higher than the federal minimum wage. But Lisa is trapped. She lives in fear of being deported, she freezes and becomes anxious anytime she sees a policeman, and she doesn’t go out much. She would like to go back to school and become either a nurse or a teacher. She is smart, sharp and loves helping people. With the community college just steps from her home, one would think it should be easy for her to fulfill her dreams. But her fear of deportation keeps her away from campus. The community college recently changed their tuition policies so that any county resident with a county high school diploma pays in-county tuition, regardless of their documentation status. Still, the tuition is completely out of her reach. She is not able to work, AND go to school, AND support her daughter. But even if she is able to study, who would employ her afterwards? How would she get a driver’s license and a car to get to work? How would she be able to obtain a meaningful employment that will help her pave a secure future for her daughter?

She crossed the border in her mother’s lap when she was one-year old. She was raised in the U.S.; she got a good U.S. education, and she has the same dreams and aspirations as her peers. She is doing everything right. She works, pays her taxes, and has opened a savings account for her daughter. Yet she has been forced to be a spectator in her community with few options for upward mobility. The day President Obama announced the new policy that would allow Latino youth to study and work for two years without fear of deportation, Lisa texted me asking for help applying to the community college. Her fears were gone.

But school is the least of her problems right now. After almost one year of having no contact with Pablo, Lisa received the package she has always feared, divorce papers petitioning sole custody of Angela. She is going crazy. First, she has very few legal resources and doesn’t know the system. Because Pablo is a U.S. citizen, she is afraid he will have more rights to the child than she does. And even if she gets shared custody, where would her daughter sleep, will she be safe, will she be loved and protected? He has been gone so long without even asking for her, what are his intentions? Fathers should be allowed to build strong bonds with their children and have meaningful interactions, but sometimes this fills young mothers with a lot of fear and unanswered questions. To maintain custody—at least shared—she would need to prove she works and is able to support her daughter. She now faces the same problem she ran into when applying for child support. Because she is not documented, she can get her employer in trouble, but if she states that she doesn’t work, she would be lying. Lisa doesn’t know the system, the terms, the standards of practice, her rights as a mother above all. One thing she does know is that when you are undocumented, any certainty of due process, any standards, and safety nets disappear.

But Lisa, as well as thousands of young Latinos, are hopeful that the two years of amnesty Obama has offered will change her present and future. For many, the next two years will lift the veil of fear, will raise hopes, and may offer additional motivation to pursue an education.

What role do teen pregnancy prevention and teen parent supporters have in advocating for the rights of immigrants?

Genevieve Martínez García is a Senior Researcher at Healthy Teen Network.

Lisa’s Story, Part I

I want to tell you the story of a friend, of a mother, of a dreamer. Lisa* is the mother of a beautiful two- year old girl, Angela. Lisa’s husband selected the name. As if in the name, their lives would be blessed with the happiness, hope, and love they were looking for. Lisa was just a few weeks shy of her high school graduation when she learned she was pregnant. She received the news with a mixture of happiness and anxiety. She and her boyfriend, Pablo, a US-born Latino, had been talking about starting a family soon. He promised to provide for her, to treat her and their children right, and to never abandon them as his dad did to him and his brother. She was having problems with her mother. Her mother just could not understand her, she said. So starting a new family­—her own family—sounded like a very good proposition. She loved him, she told me, and she believed in him and their future together.

She was afraid, however, of telling her family she was pregnant. She confided in her younger uncle who gave her his support and offered to be present when she told her parents. But her mother already knew something was not right. Lisa, an otherwise very active soccer player, was tired, sleepy, and with little appetite. It did not take long for her mother to realize Lisa was pregnant. Lisa recalls her mother being angry and upset, crying and shouting, and looking for answers. A few weeks later, Lisa and Pablo got married and started to search for their own little space where to grow their family.

Searching for housing in an expensive and crowded urban area is no easy task. Pablo was still finishing his last year of high school. They both worked in the evenings cleaning offices with her mom and dad. Lisa recalls wearing very large sweaters to hide her belly so that the manager would not ban her from cleaning bathrooms, carrying out the trash, and using harsh detergents. She desperately needed the money to pay for one bedroom in the two-bedroom apartment they shared with another family of three.

The baby was born in February, healthy and happy. But her relationship with Pablo was far from being either healthy or happy. He graduated from high school and found a job as a bouncer in a night club. He was working late evenings, in a sketchy environment and was paid in cash—money Lisa barely saw. She got a job as a store clerk while her aunt looked after the baby. She was happy in her job, surrounded by young people, working in the mall and earning money to support her daughter. She sadly realized she couldn’t count on Pablo to pay rent, or buy diapers or food. Because her daughter was born in the U.S., she got WIC and food stamps benefits only for her daughter, but nothing for her. Her mother offered to bring food over, Lisa refused saying she was fine, but she was hungry. She courageously assumed her role of mother and sole provider to her family, and carried on with the gargantuan task of making things better for little Angela. She is resolute to provide her daughter the future she is still trying to carve out for herself.

Check back next week for Part II of Lisa’s Story.

*“Lisa”, “Angela” and “Pablo” are real people but their names are made up to protect their privacy. “Lisa” is a good friend of Genevieve and agreed to share her story in Under the Currents.

Genevieve Martínez García is a Senior Researcher at Healthy Teen Network.

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