By Daunte Henderson, BlackDoctor.org
As the son of a teen mother I saw firsthand what it was like to be a parent learning on-the-go and dealing with the pressures of a society that isn’t too kind to teen parents, particularly young Black mothers. The shame, secrecy, joy and fear can be detrimental to the psyche of a young girl learning to be a woman on the fly.
Our Black children’s brains are still developing and maturing while another life’s doing the exact same thing in the womb. Caring for another life when your life isn’t firmly rooted is a scary thing. It’s hard being a teen parent.
As a teacher I’ve witnessed countless students grapple with the choice of staying home and being a full-time parent, or turning in a research paper worth 50 points, with no definite guarantee that education will pay off. The battles of going to school, working part or full-time and the absence or presence of a supportive partner leave a lot of choices for our Black youth who just had to ask, “Can I go outside?” less than a year. Despite the challenges there is hope.
Here we dispel some of the most common myths about teen pregnancy.
Everybody is having babies left and right!
Teen pregnancy rates have been declining for the past 20 years according to statistics. Pregnancy rates are at an all-time low for the first time in 30 years according to the Guttmacher Institute study. The report also pointed out that the pregnancy rate in Black women ages 15-19 dropped 56 percent.
Black girls have the highest pregnancy rate.
A common belief is that Black teenage moms have the highest rates of pregnancy amongst all races, but this is false. Hispanic teenage mothers have the highest pregnancy rates in comparison to White and Black teenage moms, cites data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. In 2014, Hispanic adolescent females ages 15-19 had the highest birth rate (38 births per 1,000 adolescent females), followed by black adolescent females (34.9 births per 1,000 adolescent females) and white adolescent females (17.3 births per 1,000 adolescent females).
According to a survey published in 2014 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, non-hispanic Black teens’ sexual behavior and contraceptive use have improved significantly since 1991.
Teen pregnancy only affects girls.
So much of the conversation about teen pregnancy is focused on girls that it’s easy to forget that it takes TWO to tango. It’s time to shift the language, because there are teen mothers AND teen fathers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are few teen pregnancy intervention programs specifically geared toward young men, but they do exist. Including young men in the conversation is critical to changing perception.
Teen pregnancy is a city issue.
Environment has an impact on the choices we make. City living for Black people is often met with hardship: poverty, lack of quality education and lack of male figures in the house. It’s believed that teen pregnancy in our inner-city communities are higher. Wrong again! Rural communities not only have higher rates of teen pregnancy, but also teen parents in these community are less likely to practice safe sex according to the Guttmacher Report. In a 20 year span, teen pregnancies dropped by 40 percent in urban areas; in comparison to 32 percent in rural areas.
Send your child to church and they’ll be less likely to sin [read: have sex].
I love the Lord. He heard my cry and forgives me for what I do and don’t know that I do, but even the most religious state hasn’t gotten a grip on teen pregnancy. Mississippi is the most conservatively religious state in America and has the highest birth rate in the country.
Your life is over.
Dr. Shaniqua Jones is a prime example of this being far from the truth. Dr. Jones is a former teen mom who went on to become an author, educator and restorative justice leader. She was told countless times that she wouldn’t graduate or become anything as a teen mom. She lived in poverty, survived rape and suicide to become an advocate for Black teen moms and women across the world. Her message is powerful. She’s a survivor and true inspiration for all mothers, especially our Black teenage moms.
Despite being outcasted by the rest of the world at one point, Dr. Jones found comfort from her family. She reflects on how teen mothers in 2016 are facing their situations.
“As far as family is concerned, my mother called a family meeting that included my three grown brothers and their families. I may have been nervous and frightful for my brothers reactions but I was supported. We faced this challenge together. I wish more teen mothers had the support of their immediate families. Now, teen mothers rely on their peers and a new definition of family in order to maintain balance and peace in a world that once labeled teen pregnancy as a societal stigma. “
She says despite the openness of of teen pregnancy these days there is still a lot of work to be done in the field.
“With there being a new level of transparency as it relates to teen pregnancy, I have witnessed the support needed for a teen mother in need. I was born and raised in the church where teen pregnancy may have been seen more of a sin than murder. We live in times where the discussion about sex is no longer coated by the terms, “birds” and “bees” but rather more vocal with street terminology. The Internet and social media are utilized as forms of learning and research along with peer pressure that typically provides misleading information; clouding one’s judgment.”