“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.