Ten years ago, I was that 17-year-old girl who thought short skirts and tight pants were the only way to a boy’s heart. I thought I was too grown to take advice from my mother. I carelessly ignored her “wait until you’re married to have sex” wishes.
And even though my mother was disappointed and didn’t support my decision, she didn’t ridicule or abandon me. She put me on birth control. My mother didn’t want me to experience what she experienced at 17 – an abortion.
But what about the millions of other young teenage girls who don’t have an adult they can talk to or the financial means to purchase birth control?
Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the first step to answering that question. And just as it was with his attempt to ban soda in the Big Apple, the mayor’s new campaign to reduce teen pregnancy has made national headlines.
On March 4, Bloomberg unveiled a contentious campaign ad to be featured on subways and buses throughout New York City. The ad included four unhappy babies with teen pregnancy statistics and sentences to make it appear as if the babies were talking to their teen mothers.
The words, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” appears next to one infant.
“This campaign makes very clear to young people that there’s a lot at stake when it comes to deciding to raise a child,” Bloomberg said in a March 3 press release.
While New York City’s pregnancy rate has declined, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s data revealed there are still more than 20,000 teen pregnancies each year, according to the press release.
“We’ve already seen important progress in our effort to help more teens delay pregnancy,” Bloomberg reported. “But there is more work still to be done.”
And the mayor is right. As a whole, the United States has seen historic lows for teen pregnancy rates, according an April 2012 report conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. Yet, the United States teen pregnancy rate is still one of the highest in the world, the report noted.
I know Mayor Bloomberg’s ad has been challenged for its content and brutal honesty, but I think the ad — and moreso the honesty — is exactly what young girls need. Don’t get me wrong; I expressed the same shock as most others when I first saw the ad. I immediately forwarded the image to friends, family and co-workers.
“They should be using the money they’re wasting on those ads to give free birth control to teens,” my co-worker Kelsey Davis said.
And I agree with Kelsey. Birth control is very expensive and we need to work on lowering its cost. But this ad sparked that conversation. This ad has people thinking of better ways to reduce teen pregnancy. This ad has opened a door that most parents and school administrators have tried and failed at.
Moreover, the statistics in the ad are backed with research by qualified groups, including the Guttmacher Institute. Hearing that caring for a baby costs more than $10,000 a year might not be what we want to hear, but it is what we need to hear.
I do want to see this campaign go further than a controversial ad. And according to the mayor’s press release, the campaign plans to feature facts, games, quizzes and a YouTube video engaging teens on the subject. I would also like to see a sister program that works with teen parents to counter the statistics that await them and their children.
Now I know those things won’t stop teens from having unprotected sex, but it has opened up a nationwide discussion. And that’s a start!
Tunette Powell is married with two children. You can read her every Tuesday on momaha.com
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