Teenage parents are not the enemies

By Katie Waldron


Saulo Cruz/Flickr
Saulo Cruz/Flickr

Teenage pregnancy is a horror story passed from parent to daughter as a way to convince precious little girls to stay in school, stay away from drugs and save themselves from the social suicide that is becoming a pregnant teenager. Parents warn their sons against becoming involved with a certain “type” of girls –  the ones that “get themselves pregnant” and derail good young men’s lives. While all of the advice to stay in school and to avoid getting involved in risky or dangerous behavior is sound, it leaves those who do end up becoming a teenage parent in the grip of isolation and destructive judgement.

Society is often so busy hating pregnant teenagers and teenage parents that there is no room for anything other than judgement and stigma. This creates societal conceptions that do not allow for teenage mothers to better themselves. How can someone be expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when society refuses to give them any straps in the first place?

It is easy from the comfortable parlor of the middle class to imagine that the playing field is equal for everyone and if one can simply get up and get a job, they too can join the game. However, this idea ignores the fact that jobs require transportation and child care, neither of which is always readily available to teenage mothers.

Public transportation is not always an option and child care is extremely expensive. Even with welfare programs that fund child care for low-income parents, there is still the issue of getting a job. Since these programs are based on income, if one is fortunate enough to get a job that pays a decent amount, benefits immediately go down or entirely disappear.

There is no gray area; a teenage parent (or low-income individual in general) is either a “welfare queen” or self-sufficient. Extremely stringent requirements may even force individuals that just barely escape the level of poverty required for welfare to be self-sufficient, even when their need is dire.

From both personal and academic experience, I can speak to the desire of young parents to better themselves. There is nearly always a desire for a better life, for advanced education, for anything that can lend itself to a more stable, happy life for themselves and their children. That desire is blocked for many by systemic inequalities and hurtful stigma.

I was one of the lucky ones – I have been able to grow from a pregnant 17-year-old on welfare who barely graduated high school to a 23-year-old parent set to receive a bachelor’s degree in the spring. However, so many parents in my situation will not be afforded those opportunities even though they are just as deserving as I am of a better life.

Teenage parents are not the enemy and they deserve the same opportunities to achieve their dreams as everyone else. They deserve understanding, support and the option to go out in public with their children without fear of snide remarks and withering stares. Being a teenage parent is surely not the best thing that can happen to someone, but that does not mean teenage parents should be demonized. The playing field should be level, but we should also recognize that players do not come into the game with all the same skills.

Katie Waldron is a Collegian columnist, and can be reached at [email protected]