Why we are already sensible enough!!

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Teen mums spend their lives proving that that they are sensible and responsible – they have no choice. So when articles like this come out it’s natural that we are angry. But instead of proving how sensible we are, we need to fight the pressure that says we have to be sensible 24/7 to be valued! 

I guess I was a sensible teen but I also wanted to have fun. I would skive if I knew 100% that we couldn’t get caught. I would play spin the bottle with kids from church who wouldn’t dare to expect more than a peck. I knew when I needed to work hard and when I didn’t so I could get good grades without being a ‘bof’! I was called frigid at school for not even kissing the first boy I went out with. Then at 15 I met a guy at a friend’s party who lied about his age to me. I didn’t have to worry about waiting to be kissed.  It was intense from the start and I fought to keep up with my exams while he wanted my undivided attention. I got 100% attendance and the top GCSE results in the year, but was made to feel that he’d been neglected and I needed to be less selfish. By summer he insisted I moved in with him, and persuading him to let me go to college meant I had no fight left for anything else. I got pregnant and begged him to let me stay at college until my son was born. He would rip up my college text books and meet me at every break because he didn’t trust me. I often left the house in tears after he’d refused to let me sleep. After my son was born I went back to college part time after he wrote a contract up for me saying I wasn’t allowed to talk to my friends. He then applied to uni and last minute I applied too. He thought I was wasting my time because I was a mum now. I got married because it seems like a sensible thing to do when you had a baby. A year later I left the relationship.

I finished uni and got a job straight away. I’ve always been careful  with money so my son would never notice that we started from a low base. At 22 I bought my first house on my own, and at 26 upgraded to the house on the corner of the road I grew up on. I hate wasting money and have always taken responsibility for savings and bills, living with my current boyfriend of 17 years, who has no concept of money or self control! (It’s ok – he’s good at stuff I’m not good at!) 

I did a masters while working full time and was a manager at 28, then assistant director at 35. My career has been slow and steady – always in the right direction, never taking any risks! 

My mum died when I was 31 and I started spending my weekends doing what she would do with my brother. We act silly together because it takes away the sense of responsibility. 

My son has also been pretty sensible since he was born! He loved doing well at school, is just finishing  his masters and starts his new job as a senior engineer.  I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Yet people still make judgments because I was teen mum – I must have been irresponsible and stupid. I wish! I spend my life desperately trying to fit in opportunities to be irresponsible and stupid because teen mums aren’t afforded that luxury! We can’t take risks that others can. It’s tiring. 

So, I make the most of nights out because there was a time when I didn’t have that option. I have a laugh with work colleagues because it’s a waste not to. My fave tv programme is Made in Chelsea cos I dream of a life where all you need to worry about is who fancies who! I don’t care if people think I’m irresponsible or not sensible enough. I’m just trying to readdress the balance! 

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Relationship and Sex Education in Schools – from the perspective of young mothers

On 6th February we consulted with young women, most of whom had become parents in their teens, about Relationship and Sex Education in schools and how the guidance should be updated. The views of 10 young mothers are included in this response.

Experiences of RSE

Most of the young mothers had poor experiences of Sex Education themselves. Lessons were often brief and basic:

From what I remember, we had one lesson shoved in with the rest of PSHE in Year 10. The stereotypical condom on a banana, very little else that sticks in my memory. A bunch of 15 year olds giggling and blushing. This was a small, rural secondary”, (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

“Ours was basic. One lesson in year 8 about puberty, one in year 9 about basics of sex (anatomy) and year 10/11 had 2 lessons. One on putting on a condom and one about STIs. Nothing we didn’t already know,” (Pregnant at 19, in 2010)

The young mothers often felt that the way sex education was delivered suggested that teachers were not interested in the subject:

 “It felt like the teachers were embarrassed and doing it out of formality rather than wanting to educate. It makes me feel there should be staff trained to do lessons like this” (Pregnant at 19, in 2010)

My tutor was cringing and wouldn’t even look into our eyes while teaching and showing us!” (Pregnant at 21, in 2009)

Where lessons did include morals they tended to have a strong religious, pro-life stance:

“We didn’t have any relationship education but had sex education which included pro-life coming into school which was awful” (Pregnant at 15, in 2005)

None of the young mothers said that their Sex Education included anything about relationships:

“Nothing about consent, domestic violence, emotional abuse (I always thought abuse was physical) or marital rape! I always thought that once married, your husband can do whatever he wanted!” (Pregnant at 21, in 2009)

There were a number of concerns about how teenage pregnancy was discussed, or not, in sex education, or more generally at school. Sometimes young mothers picked up on negative comments from teachers, or they felt there was general negativity towards teenage mothers, which was encouraged rather than challenged:

“We were told that [being a young parent] would make life difficult and hold us back. Considering I’ve just graduated and in full time employment, I call that rubbish!!!” (Pregnant at 19, in 2012)

“Absolutely nothing! Bar a teacher passing comment that having a kid in school would mean you wouldn’t amount to anything.” (Pregnant at 19, in 2010)

“Was just a lesson of ‘you don’t want to do this’ stigma” (Pregnant at 16, in 2003)

Young mothers often felt that there was a judgment towards becoming pregnant, often along with having sex in general

“I picked up the impression that it was A Fate Worse Than Death, but the only advice we were given about preventing it was to ‘not be loose and immoral’…Which just wasn’t helpful really” (Pregnant at 18, in 2001)

The general idea was “don’t do it” – not just teenage pregnancy but there was definitely a whiff of “abstinence only” about it all. Nothing about what to do if you fell pregnant, no support for teenage parents whatsoever. (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

Many young mothers stated that before becoming pregnant themselves they believed the negative stereotypes and judgements towards teenage mothers:

“I believed all the usual dross about “doing it for a council house”, girls who lacked ambition. I was cocky and arrogant, thought it’d never happen to me because “I have goals in life”.” (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

“I thought they were girls looking for a free house and money, but that’s the vibe I was given through teachers and others around me. I’m ashamed of that now. They just want to be good parents too” (Pregnant at 19, in 2012)

“I always thought it was girls who didn’t have ambitions or aims and were more interested in boys and attention” (Pregnant at 21, in 2009)

“I remember another girl being pregnant at my school in year 9 and everyone was calling her a slut. I was just fascinated by her bump. It didn’t really occur to me how her life had been impacted” (Pregnant at 16, in 2003)

“Media had also told me that being a teen mum would mean I would be a leech on society and I wouldn’t achieve anything in life” (Pregnant at 19, in 2010)

Experiences of becoming pregnant as a teenager

Support from peers when young women did become pregnant was mixed, but many found that they lost their friends, because peers distanced themselves or were judgemental towards them. There is a wealth of research on how loneliness affects young mums, and the importance of a strong support network during a time when young mums are likely to need support most.

“Male friends judged and distanced themselves. I was banned from the house by a friend’s mum! (Pregnant at 16, in 2003)

“I lost all my friends. It’s as if they thought it was catching. My family also weren’t very happy, a rift which has healed, but it was a really lonely time” (Pregnant at 19, in 2012)

“Some not real friends called me a ‘Slag’, others drifted away over time as I was committed to my child and therefore unable to go out all of the time. They stopped inviting me” (Young mother)

“One said it would be a burden on our friendship. Others just ditched me. Was quite isolating. One girl at school actually tried to fight me” (Pregnant at 15, in 2005)

Many of the assumptions that peers had were based on negative perceptions around young motherhood, and ignored the actual lives of the individual:

 “Mostly told me I was ruining my life and stopped being friends with me because of it. Proved them wrong, completed my BA whilst being a single mum and now doing an MA at a top uni whilst working and looking after my now-four year old” (Young Mother)

What should RSE include?

The young mothers often had clear views about what Relationship and Sex Education should include, and when subjects should be introduced:

The interplay between teenage pregnancy and domestic abuse/unhealthy relationships was highlighted by some young mothers, with most feeling that discussing consent was hugely important

“I think they should cover, domestic violence/ what is and isn’t acceptable within relationships” (Pregnant at 16, in 2003)

“I completely agree. I know teen mums that ended up as a mum due to violence and bad relationships” (Pregnant at 19, in 2010)

“And the importance of not just consent, but enthusiastic consent. You can never teach this too early, and not just in a sexual education context” (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

“Consent, dynamics of a relationships including mental health, domestic violence, all form of abuse and becoming parents (what we need to consider and the experience of it)” (Pregnant at 21, in 2009)

Many young mothers thought there should be more information on the different types of contraception, while also focussing on the importance of relationships:

“They need to include all types of birth control and they really need to talk about relationships! Things don’t stop at sex and for some, relationship=sex so understanding that it’s more than that!” (Pregnant at 21, in 2009)

“Consent, safe sex, healthy relationships, pregnancy, birth control” (Pregnant at 19, in 2012)

Many young mothers felt that RSE should start early with a focus on the types of relationships at primary school:

“Starting at the youngest age, there should be discussions and activities focusing on friendship, playing fair and boundaries….

Juniors – more on friendships, bullying. Introducing children to the correct terms for anatomy – abusers can rely on children using ambiguous names making it difficult for adults to pick up on abuse. The importance of not being pressured into a relationship….

Juniors is also probably the best time to start preparing them for puberty. Boys and girls should be expected to sit in lessons on puberty for both sexes, not separated as has often been the case. Reduce the stigma of periods etc

Early secondary school – enthusiastic consent, boundaries within relationships, going harder on the online safety aspect, the right for either partner to say “no” and be listened to, the importance of respect…

Introduce some potential consequences at secondary age – make them aware of crimes, the implications of being on the sex offenders’ register, the jail terms that are possible. Cover modern issues – revenge porn, “send nudes” etc ..

Safe sex can’t be abstinence-based; it doesn’t work. Cover all methods of contraception; short and long-term. Explain the pros and cons, offer leaflets and resources. Discuss STDs and the implications of pregnancy on both partners…

Open, honest discussions on the realities of abortion, relinquishing a child for adoption or continuing with a pregnancy. Have speakers from BPAS and ask young parents to come in and speak about their experiences too” (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

Challenging stigma and myths

Many young mothers felt strongly that RSE should be inclusive, to challenge stigma and social pressures:

“I also think they should cover same sex relationships, rather than focusing simply on straight sexual health. Also gender identity, (Pregnant at 16, in 2003)

“Talk about LGBT+ issues too; there will be kids in classrooms who haven’t come out yet but they need the information too. Hold lessons on reducing the stigma towards young parents and LGBT pupils. Stress that there is no pressure to be having sex yet” (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

It was felt that RSE should particularly challenge sexist attitudes that can exist towards girls, and misunderstandings around abuse and rape:

“The notion of “she was asking for it” needs to be stamped out. RSE needs to include that regardless of what the victim is wearing/doing/saying, the responsibility always lies entirely with the abuser…

There’s an attitude of “If it was that bad, you would have left”. I think addressing the difficulty of walking away from an abusive relationship could reassure pupils who find themselves in one.” (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

This role of challenging attitudes was also applied to the stigma around teenage motherhood:

“[Friends are important] as support and stigma of young parenting undermines this support network. We need to help young people support each other not ostracise” (Young mother)

The young mothers felt that if it was school’s role to discuss teenage pregnancy then it was important to reframe focus away from ‘preventing teenage pregnancy’ and towards supporting young people in a non-stigmatizing way:

“Although I may be biased by my own experiences, I worry that “prevention” could give way to abstinence-based sexual education, or Mean Girls-esque silliness” (Pregnant at 19, in 2010)

“I think preventing teen pregnancy is a tough one. They have a responsibility, just as parents do, to equip young people with all the education they need to make informed choices about sexuality, consent, contraception and antenatal choices” (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

“I don’t think preventing is their job, I just think educating them is the key. More honest chats about consent/ relationships/ pregnancy/ sex” (Pregnant at 19, in 2010)

“[School] should also work to reduce the stigma against young mums. You can discourage without demonising” (Pregnant at 19, in 2013)

“Would stop stigma around being a teen mum, help young women know what to expect in relationships- was it acceptable what is not… and make informed decisions about their lives and relationships” (Pregnant at 15, in 2005)

This recognition of the importance of teaching RSE in a way that does not stigmatise young parents is particularly important given that the 10 year teenage pregnancy strategy reported its success at reducing teenage pregnancy through claiming that teenage motherhood was no longer ‘a mark of status’, and was now considered ‘totally uncool’, with the ‘problem’  now fixable.

When increased stigma around teenage motherhood is so widely reported as a success then it is the role of schools to challenge such perceptions that lead to low expectations, isolation, scrutiny and fear for those who do become young mothers. It should be the role of schools to support young mothers, rather than making it harder for them through pushing negative prevention messages and not addressing myths and sexist attitudes about sex and relationships.

There are huge opportunities to engage with young people in RSE, and throughout school, to discuss the complex challenges and opportunities that relationships bring, but this should always be framed in a context of inclusivity, respect, sensitivity and a genuine desire to support young people, and to enable them to be supportive of each other.

2017 – Young Mums Getting On With Stuff!

In 2017 a whole load of young mums did some amazing things, and some amazing organisation and allies helped to promote their voices:
In March, Young Women’s Trust published research they carried out with mothers aged under 25 to find out what was important to them, and what they thought about work, children and employment support. They found that one in four young mothers in the UK has experienced discrimination when their employer found out they were pregnant. They also found that one in five young mums feels lonely all of the time.
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In April, I was invited to speak about teenage motherhood at a conference in Tours (yep, France!)  on Mother Figures and Representations of Motherhood: Contemporary Perspectives. I highlighted the research and voices of young mothers that often get ignored, summed up  by the author of the study on the effectiveness of the teenage pregnancy strategy, who in the Guardian concluded with pride that getting pregnant used to be a mark of status to some young women but “now it’s considered totally uncool” 🤦🏻‍♀️ Was great to also get to know Professor Ros Edwards (also former teen mum!) and hear more about her research with Val too!
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In April I also attended Little Lullaby’s event on “Working with Young Parents: Sharing the Learning seminar” There was a great session ran by young parents and we made some fab new contacts!
In May, Jendella’s book, Young Motherhood, was published, showcasing the stories of many great young mothers. Read this fab interview with Jendella by ‘forever teen mum’ Nina Packebush.
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Nicky Brennan also wrote a piece for the guardian about being a young mum.  She had her first child at 16, and works for a domestic violence charity specialising in helping young women – Despite a number of barriers she has now been selected  as a labour candidate and I can’t think  of anyone better to represent those who struggle to have their voices heard.
Sophie, Laura and I also met up with Joeli from Pregnant Then Screwed  – an amazing campaign tacking maternity discrimination – and Helen from the Guilty Mothers Club. Together we wanted to do more for young mums who may face specific discrimination.
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Young Mums Collective was born and Helen wrote a amazing blog on discrimination while  studying. We had a young mums chat to discuss the various issues and the type of support needed.
I also met up with the lovely Kyla Ellis, former teen mum and senior lecturer at Brighton University, who also has written some brilliant things about teenage motherhood and stigma
In July, Angela Rayner talked more about her experience of being a teen mum and shared the news that she would be a grandma at 37!
“When I was pregnant at 16 I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed. Growing up I was always made to feel I wasn’t good enough. I was called a scrubber. People said: ‘That’s it, she’s going to have loads of kids with different dads and be in a council house all her life and amount to nothing.’ 
Jendella and Emily Morris were on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour talking about young mums. Emily’s book ‘My Shitty Twenties‘ was also published and I was lucky enough to attend a reading at the Big Green Bookshop with fellow young mum Hayley!
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Action for Children published a report on young parenthood which acknowledged that “Young mothers often have to face up to negative social attitudes about young parenthood, which can affect both their relationships and their engagement with support services”
I also met up with Dr Sue Black who is aiming to reach 500 mums under 25 through her #techmums course. Sue left home and school at 16, married at 20 and had 3 children by the age of 23. A single parent at 25 she went to university, gained a degree in computing then a PhD in software engineering. We got a toilet selfie and I acted like a total fan girl!IMG_1474
I randomly tweeted about the fact that young mums under 25 will receive £780 a year less under universal credit and it got 449 retweets! So we wrote about it a bit more and even got some people to sign a petition! The impact on young families was finally picked up  in CPAG’s report
In November, we had another Young Mums Chat on young motherhood and Mental Health, ahead of the Mental Health Summit in Blackpool. Lots of young mums’ voices were heard at the event including the brilliant Stacey Solomon who became a mum at 17!
Young Women’s Trust also published more research into young women out of work and the barriers for those with caring responsibilities who are all too often written off.
2017 full report
Clearly writing young mums off is the last thing we should do and 2017 has been proof of that!  There have also been loads of other positive stories about young mums this year:
I’ll end with this lovely interview with Kay Mellor
The morning after we told my mum I was pregnant, she said: “You’ve ruined your life. That’s it now, you’re a mother …” I remember her saying: “You were so clever …” I felt terrible, as if I’d let her down. At the same time, she was doing me a boiled egg and saying: “You’ve got to eat right, now you’re pregnant.” She was torn. She wanted the best for me. I promised I’d go back into education when my children went to school.” 
Kay Mellor’s new series, Girlfriends, begins on ITV at 9pm on 3 January.
Ok, I lied, I’ll actually end with this amazing picture of this lucky baby boy and his family of matriarchs (4 generations of grandmothers aged 37, 55, 76, 102) :
Happy New Year! 
For previous annual reviews see:

Parents under 25 will lose £15 a week under Universal Credit

IMG_1613.JPGFour years ago Gingerbread and The Children’s Society  released briefings here outlining expected impacts of the Government’s welfare reform following an updated impact assessment in December 2012.

The introduction of Universal Credit in October 2013 was designed to replace the current in work and out of work benefits and “radically simplify the [welfare] system to make work pay and combat worklessness and poverty”.

However, the analysis in this briefing showed that more single parents will lose than gain after the implementation and the two groups that will lose out substantially could perhaps be considered the most vulnerable: single parents aged under 25 and those who are disabled.

“Under universal credit single parents under the age of 25 will no longer be entitled to receive the higher rate of personal allowance. Instead, they will receive the same rate of allowance as an under-25-year-old without any children. This means that out-of-work single parents between the ages of 18 and 25 will receive £15 per week less than they would under the current system (£780 per year in total).“

This £15 a week reduction in personal allowance for parents under 25  also affects working single parents who would otherwise receive Working Tax Credits, meaning that in total approximately 240,000 single parent families under 25 will be affected by this change.

The briefing pointed out that “the Government has acknowledged that changes to personal allowances for under-25s in universal credit will push 100,000 more people into poverty than would otherwise have been the case” yet there seems to be a real lack of awareness or publicity that this is the case.

At that time I asked young mums what this change will actually mean to them.

Many young mums said that living on benefits was like being in a constant state of “trying to catch up” and, therefore, vulnerability and stress.

They feel the changes will make them unable to prepare for a crisis or unexpected bill and said they will now always be dependent on the next payment.

At the same time, they feel judged by others who assume they have an easy life and no aspirations to move off benefits.

For some young mums, a lack of money for transport means they will be left isolated and lonely.

When asked how a reduction of £15 a week would affect them, they struggled to identify where they could make £15 reductions in spending, as every penny already was accounted for.

Some felt it would simply lead to unavoidable build-up of debts. The Government’s logic, that a parent under 25 would need less to live on than a parent over 25, made no sense to the young mothers I spoke to, and some even suggested that, if anything, younger parents required more money to live on, as they were often less “set up” for supporting a family than their older counterparts.

Others said that the number of nappies, the amount of food, the requirement for warmth, etc, were the same for families, so it made no sense that their families should get a lower rate, simply because they were younger.

Ultimately, the mothers I spoke to felt that a difference in entitlement based on an arbitrary age came down to simple discrimination and stigmatisation of younger mothers.

Some young parents had already been affected by other cuts, such as cuts in service provision and reductions in housing benefits, meaning that, in areas where rents are higher than average and there are no cheaper alternatives, they were having to pay the shortfall out of limited benefits.

These were young mums who were working and studying yet their disposable incomes were getting less and less.

Many young mums felt they were being punished because, as a group, it can be difficult for young parents to make enough noise to get listened to, especially when the general public already has them written off as scroungers.

Shouting about access to benefits will never make us popular, many said, but that shouldn’t mean the Government can get away with caring less about the children of young parents.

All young mums want is equal fair treatment. It’s important that myths, often perpetuated by the media, about young girls getting pregnant on purpose in order to spend a lifetime on benefits are dispelled to ensure that others also understand the unfairness of these changes affecting parents under 25.

Young mums want others to have high expectations of them, rather than writing them off. Support to move into education and work is vital, and this is what we want to be shouting about, but punishing young mums when they are most vulnerable, by reducing benefits, is not the answer and will only add to risks of isolation, depression and disengagement.

Four years later and nothing has changed. We are still shouting about this, and still being ignored. Sign our petition now to reverse these cuts for parents under 25 before it’s too late.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/reverse-the-lower-rate-of-financial-support-for-parents-under-25

2016 Review!

2016 has been an interesting year for young mums.
In May there was the high profile campaign; Power to the Bump. Laura and Sophie did some great work with the Young Women’s Trust, doing media interviews and such to highlight the issues for young mums. It’s great that this campaign was founded on strong research highlighting the discrimination young mums face, and was then made real by young mums talking about their own experiences. We need both education providers and employers to support young mums to ensure that they are not adding addition barriers or stress to young mums at a time when they need the most support!

In June Public Health England and LGA published a framework for supporting young parents – there was some good practice highlighted but still the pathways didn’t quite show a full understanding for young parents’ journeys and contexts. The responsibility to provide flexible support to young mums in education is also left to each individual LA, risking LAs being able to provide support that meets *their* needs, rather than the young parents.

In November Teen Mom UK aired  and while the reaction was mixed there was a good deal of positive support for the girls and overall the experience for them seems to have been positive. The show highlighting the complicated relationships young mums often have to negotiate alongside being a mum but it was clear throughout that being a good mum was always the primary focus.

A glimmer of hope in a depressing year of politics has been seeing Angela Rayner‘s rise to Shadow Secretary for Education. She was a teen mum at 16 with no qualifications yet she credits the support she had a young mum and is fighting against cuts to such support. She’s also not afraid of being herself and saying it how it is. In November, former teen Mum, Teresa Pearce MP,  also wrote about the crisis in social care and the importance of investing in people, as she was supported as a young mum. Notice any theme here?

In other news there was some great positive publicity for the Young Motherhood Project this year with articles on Buzzfeed and huffington post, Maddy wrote an actual book (which is a great resource for young mums and anyone who might ever meet a young mum!) and  I was asked to talk on the radio 4 show ‘The Pregnant Teen Vanishes‘ where, instead of getting into why the rate has decreased (meh), I talked about the impact of stigma on how young mums feel about themselves and how we should value young mums more!

Young Women’s Trust released a report on young women who are economical inactive. In total, 274,000 women age 18-24 are ‘economically inactive’ – 61% of these are caring for family. This term is a truly unrepresentative way to describe young mums caring for their children and potentially others too! While there is more to do in understanding opportunities to  develop  careers around families, we first we need to really value the job young mums are doing of bringing up their children. They are not ‘inactive’ and they are probably doing the most important job they will ever be doing! And yet by marginalising young mums at this time we risk de-valuing it and therefore not providing the support that anyone needs when caring for another human being. All mums should be supported in their choices but often it’s even harder for young mums to say this because we are made to feel that we don’t deserve to have that voice or to have any demands of society. We should be demanding a society that cares for those who are caring for others. But this requires a change in how society thinks and supports people.

We should be proud of what we are doing, but we also need to demand that we are cared for too, because that’s the kinda society we should want to live in! Here’s to 2017 – a long way to go but our voices are getting louder! And that is only ever a good thing!!

Teen Mom Alumni

image“Are you motivated, inspiring, outspoken and unashamed?”

We saw MTV’s adverts appealing for for teen mums in the UK to apply.

Tweets read ‘Are you a young mum with attitude? Want to show the world how it’s done?’

When I get contacted for teen mums I usually say “sorry, they are not a commodity to be used for your own agenda”, and then if I’m convinced to continue the conversation I will at least say “Just don’t touch the vulnerable ones”. I don’t share the details for fear it will only tempt them, but I mean the ones under 16, the ones with PND, the ones experiencing DV without realising it, the shy ones, the ones with no support. At least spare them the intrusion and false hope that someone wants to give them a voice, when the only voice they are given is that of the producers.

So I’m glad these Teen Moms have attitude – they will need it – I hope they have enough. I hope they get their voices heard and I hope the public love them. If not I’ll be defending each one of them. See, my attitude didn’t develop till I’d long left my teens… So I’m making up for lost time, for the years when I kept my head down, and didn’t listen to my own voice enough to challenge those around me.

We may not like teenage motherhood being pushed as ‘entertainment’ but teenage pregnancy has long been a ‘public concern’ – Whether we like it or not we are out there to be commented on.

And unfortunately young mums are affected by public attitudes:
When people say teen mums get pregnant to get houses, no one challenges government policy making it more difficult for those who are homeless .

When people say teen mums are lazy, no one cares that government cuts to welfare leave young mums even worse off.

When people say teen mums are slags the conversation about contraception comes before ‘Are you OK?’.

Sometimes putting positive stories out there and inviting even more judgement feels futile – as if we think just one more story will change people’s minds! And then when it doesn’t we wonder whether it just wasn’t positive enough. I should have got a 1st in my degree (maybe I could explain why), or I should be happily married (I should say that this is my own choice). Sometimes I wonder if we should just keep quiet and stay off people’s radar – it’s probably a more successful strategy. People may even think the whole Teen Pregnancy Prevention thing was so successful that we now cease to exist! But then there will be others speaking on our behalf, there will be numbers instead of faces, there will be girls finding out they are pregnant and thinking their lives are over, and no one has ever been where they are, thinking the same thing.

I may no longer be a teen mum but people can still do the maths; “Oh, you were/are THAT kinda girl’? Or “Wow – you’ve done so well considering” – I get both these. I’ve spent enough time in paid employment to receive a patronising “well done” yet I’m not quite demure enough to shake off the promiscuous identify associated with the fact I ‘shudda kept my legs crossed’. Together we are all exceptions to the rule and yet part of a group that needs to stick together. The ‘teen mum stereotype’ won’t go away by us checking out the group, it just gets pointed on someone else. If we share the stigma out equally we can just about cope, with our less than perfect lives.

We may not agree with MTVs approach but the ‘teen moms’ on the screen next week are real people – and teen mums and former teen mums watching are real people too.

When people say these teen mums on TV are promoting teen pregnancy by being so brash and proud, the quiet young mum remembers never to speak out.

When people say  “You’re different to ‘those teen mums'” the judgement from others becomes the only way to validate our stories, and invalidate others.

To create safety in numbers we can’t just abandon the Teen Mum label when we reach 20. We may not all be ‘motivated, inspiring, outspoken and unashamed’ all the time, but we will forever be the Teen Mum Alumni.

 

Power to the Bump!!

Young Mums and Maternity Rights

Last Thursday the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched #PowertotheBump, a digital campaign to help young expectant and new mothers know their rights at work and have the confidence to stand up for them.

They highlighted research that showed young mothers are significantly more likely to experience pregnancy and maternity discrimination, with six times as many under 25 year olds than average reporting being dismissed from their jobs after they tell their employer they are pregnant.

Young mums under 25 are also more likely than older mums to be verbally harassed because of their pregnancy and are more likely to be discouraged from attending antenatal appointments. This could be due to a number of reasons: Women under 25 are more likely to be in unstable, low paid work or in more junior positions. They may feel less confident to ask for time off and they may feel judged for making a choice to be a parent at a ‘socially unacceptable’ time in their lives, or for not having made that conscious choice at all, making the working environment uncomfortable – Indeed the EHRC state that ‘the insight and feedback  shows that young women had lower awareness of their rights, were typically in less stable employment situations and were worried or lacked confidence to talk to their manager about things that were troubling them – and so felt under pressure to hand in their notice or leave their job than raise issues.’

Many (particularly large) employers are great at providing support to pregnant employees. As I’ve progressed in my career I’ve seen older women announce with confidence their pregnancies at work, and it saddens me to know that younger mums rarely have this luxury. Young mums don’t tend to hear ‘congratulations’, any sense of pride is often viewed as a ‘disgrace’ – they are taught to keep their heads down and be invisible. 

Therefore this isn’t about just asking all employers to do more or providing more generous conditions, but understanding why young mums are so much more likely to experience this avoidable stress during their pregnancy than older mums, and then addressing those specific issues.  Pregnancy and Maternity is a protected characteristic. It’s recognised as discrimination if they are treated less favourably. This is progress. However, the only way to ensure young mums receive the right support is to apply those rights to the individual young pregnant woman regardless of the situation; whether she’s working full time, studying full time, combining part time work and study, etc.

I was  at college studying A-levels when I found out I was pregnant. I only told my tutor so early because I thought I’d have to leave. Instead she looked at what I could do, how I could stay on and then how I could come back in a capacity that suited my situation. I was 16. I was scared. I wasn’t living at home. I had a lot going on. My tutor became my informal advocate and supported me throughout my time at college. But this wasn’t her role – it wasn’t policy. I was just lucky. Even now, 20 years on, there is no clear pathway for young mum’s rights regarding education and employment.

Public Health England recently published a ‘A framework for supporting
teenage mothers and young fathers‘. However, in their well developed ‘joined up care pathways’ education or employment is not mentioned at all during pregnancy and education only appears after ‘Help with choosing postnatal contraception’ and referrals to ‘on-going support services, health visitors, teenage parent support service, and children’s centres’.  Employment is never mentioned, even though many young mums want to work to financially support their families. Raising the Participation Age (RPA) means than young people are expected to stay on in education until they are 18, yet there is no legal requirement on the length of maternity leave and Local Authorities are just advised to ‘tailor maternity leave to the individual’. The danger is that this gives them scope to tailor it to the individual education provider, rather than the young parent. Barnardo’s research in 201o (Not the End of the Story: supporting teenage mothers back into education) cited young mums recalling being unofficially excluded for ‘pregnancy-related reasons’. Bullying and, more generally, the stigma associated with being pregnant while at school was also highlighted. There is no evidence that this has improved.
While some young mums plan their pregnancies, for many, early pregnancy wasn’t part of their life plan. The last thing they need is an employer or education provider adding to that sense of insecurity. I know if I hadn’t had support and flexible options during pregnancy I wouldn’t be where I am now. So, whatever the young mums’ situation, those ‘joined-up pathways’ need to include early support in education or employment. Young mums need to know what their rights are as soon as they start making those often difficult  choices. And they need the confidence to stand up for those rights by knowing they will be listened to rather than judged. We know that for young mums, it’s becoming a mum that leads them to care more about their future. Wouldn’t it be great if others cared about those futures too, right from the very start?

 

Join us a 9pm tonight to discuss #powertothebump