The city spent two years and more than $400,000 developing its new campaign to prevent teen pregnancy, but apparently focus groups didn’t reveal that the ads would be widely panned for shaming teen parents. The posters, which launched this week in subways and bus shelters, feature pictures of distraught children with messages like “Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years,” and “Honestly Mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” The ads offer a variety of statistics about how teen parents and their offspring are essentially doomed, and direct people to a text message–based game about a pregnant teen. However, they provide no information on how one might avoid this terrible fate.
Planned Parenthood of New York City denounced the campaign, saying that studies have shown poverty causes teen pregnancy, not the other way around. “The latest NYC ad campaign creates stigma, hostility, and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood rather than offering alternative aspirations for young people,” Haydee Morales, Vice President of Education and Training at Planned Parenthood of New York City, said in a statement. “The City’s money would be better spent helping teens access health care, birth control, and high-quality sexual and reproductive health education, not on an ad campaign intended to create shock value.”
According to the Daily News, city officials counter that they’re already doing all of those things, and have also been criticized for giving out birth control and providing emergency contraception to high school students. A spokeswoman for the Bloomberg administration responded:
“It is well past time when anyone can afford to be value neutral when it comes to teen pregnancy … This city has been a national leader in allocating resources to make birth control available and provide sex education to young people, but at the same time we must send a strong message that teen pregnancy has consequences — and those consequences are extremely negative, life-altering and most often disproportionately borne by young women.”
Obviously finding a way to address teen pregnancy without enraging a large swath of the population isn’t an easy task, but it already sounds like the city’s text-message mash-up of Choose Your Own Adventure and Teen Mom isn’t the solution.