Posted by Prymface on Thursday, April 15, 2010
I read an article this week about the Juno effect, or rather the death of it. Turns out, amid all this moral panic, the film Juno did NOT actually cause teenage birth rates to increase! The thing is people really don’t know how to portray young parents responsibly. As the article states:
‘Juno was too smart, funny and likable; Katherine Heigl in "Knocked Up" was too pretty and too happy; the Gloucester girls were too poor and too dumb; Jamie Lynn Spears was too rich and too dumb; Bristol Palin was too privileged and too Republican.’
The report goes on; those carrying on at school are unrealistic, those who dropped out are losers. I like to challenge stereotypes and show that young parents can do good. They can be cool, smart, funny, successful, talented, motherly etc, but in doing so am I actively encouraging teenage pregnancy? Do girls really get pregnant cos there are a few bright young mums in the media? I doubt it - the focus seems a little wrong to me. There are two stages of becoming a young mum; getting pregnant and having a baby, both should be informed choices. Sometimes the first isn't always a real choice, there are two people involved for a start. So maybe up to 50% of the 'blame' can placed on someone else. Sometimes more, depending on the situation. But the second stage should also be an informed choice, one that is not influenced by the gov or media or whatever. Here I think it’s important that girls know that being a teen parent does not have to ruin your life. Being a teen parent does not have to ruin your babies life. I’m all for pro-choice but it should be the mothers choice, about what she feels is right. The people standing outside abortion clinics with placards of dead fetuses (I've only heard this is what they do) don't help either. Where are those fussers when the baby is born? Will they be there for you every time someone looks down on you for being a young mum? It's unlikely. No one can protect you from that. Being a young mum though you learn to be strong, and you learn to stand up for yourself and you learn to believe in yourself. But sometimes it takes time....
So can young mums really be role models? I recently read 'Teenage Parenthood: whats the problem?' It's a good book - It looks at some of the statistics and then a range of qualitative studies. Its very similar to my dissertation I did in 2007. In fact the first chapter I could be forgiven for thinking they had plagurised it! My dissertation supervisor was an impossibly posh tubby bumbling toff from Oxford with a name like a french turd. He just didn't get it. Each time I met him I had to explain my dissertation again. Y’see there is some longditudinal research (Ermisch and Pevalin, 2003) with the 1970’s birth cohort that found that by age 30 outcomes for 'teen mums' were same as they would be had they had a miscarriage. Which means the teen birth didn’t actually make any difference in the long run. But surely this couldn’t mean they lived their lives the same? What about child care and housing and relationships and all that other stuff that gets complicated sometimes when you have a baby young? You don’t just have a baby and carry on. Things change. In fact everything changes. So how do they do it I wanted to know. I looked at data on nearly 400 young parents, carried out a survey with about 150 young single mums and 150 older single mums, then I did in-depth interviews with 5 young mums who had made successful transitions to talk about how they did it. One day I met my supervisor and he finally got it - he remembered all the mature students he taught who had had their children young and then returned to education, how they always seemed to get the best grades, how they always worked 10 times harder than the other students who were there just cos...well...just cos that's what you do at 18 isn't it. I was so chuffed that he finally got what I was saying! I felt like I'd converted him! The next time he saw me though he couldn’t remember what my dissertation was about again; It was kinda frustrating. I saw another lecturer about my analysis but when I said I wanted to look at how the age of birth doesn’t make a difference by the time you're 30 he just said-that's wrong, ‘If I mark your work then I’ll fail it’ he told me. Needless to say it was him and the french turd who marked my work! - it passed but didn't get any awards! So its kinda pissy when this book comes out and repeats everything I already said!
The book looks at the same stats as I did and concludes that teenage parenthood is no big deal, then it looks at a range of interviews; Ok these girls are all happy: Their finding = Teen parenthood is no biggy. In a way I agree. Except people don’t like this do they.....The charity Straight Talking (which aims to prevent teen pregnancy and support young mothers) even contacted me to say they didn't agree with all of my website cos I didn’t acknowledge the poor outcomes that young mums face. They reeled off the list of poor outcomes (smoking, poor diet etc), failing to get that these were linked to pre-pregnancy factors. But she did say the young parents she worked with often had chaotic lives, that they often suffered domestic abuse, and PND, which 'made achievements hard'. Maybe these were related to pre-pregnancy factors again, but maybe they weren't. It's true that it's not always easy being a teenage mum - I really hope that I don't give that impression. On moral maze there was a young mum, who has obviously turned her life around and was doing really well, disagreeing with one of the authors of this book - The young mum was employed by Straight Talking to help prevent teenage pregnancy by saying how hard it was. The author told her she was proof that being a teenage mum doesn't ruin your life, therefore wasn't a problem. It got kinda complex.
Now, I'm no expert but if someone had interviewed me at 17 they would have seen a pretty dysfunctional relationship. I was looking after my baby fine but I was lonely and it was a constant struggle to go to college because my partner was a control freak who wouldn’t let me out of his sight. I don't think they would have thought I was fine. Although if people asked I would have said I was. I didn't want anyone's help, or sympathy. I wanted to deal with it on my own. I wanted people to think I was ok. 13 years on maybe I do seem ok. I'm not quite your middle class yummy mummy - but I wouldn't want to be either. I’ve sorted myself out. I’ve sorted us out - because I had to. Because I wanted to. Having a baby does that, it makes you want things not for yourself but for someone else. But when I say I’m glad I had my son at 17 people assume I lived at home with supportive parents and general nice stuff. I did have supportive parents, but due to my shitty relationship I usually wasn’t allowed to access their support....I wasn’t surrounded by ‘nice stuff’ at all.
The new book dear me isn't a book about easy lives either. It sometimes shows abusive relationships, judgement, PND, struggling to pay bills, but it also shows immense determination. Each letter oozing strength and character that makes you want to weep. ‘Follow your instincts. You’re stronger than you think you are’ each letter says in its own words, because now they had grown up they knew just what they were capable of. They knew the amazing people their babies grew up to be. Teenage pregnancy can happen for all sorts of reasons and we can be in a right old mess. Often that mess started before the pregnancy did. But that doesn't mean our whole lives will be a mess. We may struggle sometimes but we get over it. That is why I think young mums deserve respect. When I was interviewing the mums for my dissertation listening to their stories made me so proud. Sometimes life was hard but their children never suffered. Whether it was working at home while they were asleep, or taking their children on residentials with them, they somehow managed to balance being a mum and role model amazingly despite apparently doing everything ‘the wrong way round’.
All young mums are different - just look at the 'Young mum stories' page on here. 15 young mums with their own stories, thoughts, and experiences. Of course young mums can be role models. Not because they got up the duff but because they made choices, and then made sure they were the right ones. Do any of them regret it? Of course they don't. Would they want their daughters to be pregnant teens? Probably not. As a young mum I interviewed said;
'I’m very much focused on getting her to not make the same mistakes. That’s not because I’d ever change my life but because it is really hard you know and I think people forget that. It sounds really big headed but if you’re successful…if you achieve something, people believe that it was easy to get there. And the recognition of how hard you did work to get there is lost.'
I do believe that there is nothing about being ‘young’ that can make you a ‘bad’ parent. Just as there are benefits of delaying pregnancy there are also many benefits of being a younger mum. I do suspect, however, that there are things more likely to happen in young parent’s lives e.g. bad relationship stuff, having to move around a bit, difficulty working out a new career path, and feeling judged by other people often causing loneliness and a general shitty feeling. There needs to be much better research into this to inform the type of support that should be available. But young mums can feel that in not living up to the stereotype they can’t ask for help, they can't admit they need it. But being successful isn't about proving other people wrong - that doesn’t make you happy (well, ok, maybe a bit!). Being successful can mean anything, but mainly it’s about working out what is right for you, what makes you happy, and being able to access support when you need it.
The 'What's the problem' book is great for highlighting some of the ignorance that surrounds teenage pregnancy, but it will never be heard by the right people. Those who want to fit all young mums in the box labeled 'scum of the earth'. They don't want to hear. They just want an easy target group to look down on. A group that often aren't in the position to stand up for themselves yet. Much of the above applies to 'single parents' too but they have gingerbread to fight their corner, they have J K Rowling, they have the 'at least I wasn't a teenager' fall back line! They don't have the complication that the same orgs that are there to support them are mainly funded to prevent them. As the Juno effect article concludes,
‘Turns out, depicting teen parents may not glamorize them, so much as humanize them. You know, that thing that happens when one person recognizes that someone else is a person too? So, now that we can firmly state that realistically depicting the lives of the tiny percentage of girls who do become pregnant won't necessarily contaminate the rest of them, it's time to stop worrying and ask what we can do to help.’
Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that we should ALL promote respect for young mothers and a good way of doing that is sharing different 'faces', as an alternative to the one dimensional ‘pramface’ on the telly. Why? Because they make people stop and think about their own pre-conceptions. We are not all ‘exceptions to the rule’. This is the rule: show some bloody respect - don’t use age to judge us.
To all young mums reading this - just keep doing what you're doing....and hold your head up high.
p.s. Thank you to CYPnow, F-word, single mother challanges, love is not a feeling, diary of a single mum, diary of a young mum, adoption critique and quite dear for supporting my site. Thank you too to those who challenge it - it gives me something to write about! Big Up young mums!
(P.p.s Like literally: big them up. If you were a 'teen mum' and now you're grown up and boring like me don't forget what it was like, don't be ashamed to say you were a teen mum. Tell everyone. Be proud of it!)
Tags: stereotypes research 'dear me' 'whats the problem?' media prevention
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