Every Friday, the Candies Foundation puts out a #FridayFact on Twitter. This week, it was the photo below:
Now, before I begin, I want to point out that the Candies Foundation has always been an organization that advocates an abstinence-only approach to sex education and that they have a history of shaming teens for choosing to parent, especially poor young people and young people of color. (Remember that Bristol Palin ad in which they have her say, basically, if you’re not rich and famous, your life as a teen mom is awful and you’re an equally awful parent?) The Candies Foundation is not, by self-definition or any judgment of their work, a reproductive justice organization.*
With that said, let’s examine how this particular tweet exemplifies how, in all ways imaginable, the Candies Foundation is doing it wrong.
First, their focus is on “teen pregnancy prevention” rather than preventing unintended pregnancy. Reproductive justice is about supporting all reproductive decisions that all people make and the fact is that not all teen pregnancies are unintended. Some young people decide to start a family at an early age while others are in situations where parenting young is the cultural norm. Others get pregnant thinking it will be an avenue to escape loneliness, depression, abusive households and parents, forced marriage, or to cement a relationship. What value judgment you place on these reasons matter not a single iota if you really want to support teen parents. If you really want to support teen parents, you ask them what factors contributed to their decisions to parent and you provide resources to assist them if they ask for them. Period.
But the Candies Foundation doesn’t actually want to support teen parents. In fact, they see them as the “failures,” to be used only to scare teens who are not yet pregnant or parenting into remaining abstinent until marriage in order to avoid becoming a tragic, sad statistic. This approach effectively contributes to the already devastating stigma associated with teen parents. The teens who saw that #FridayFact are being primed to bully and/or ostracize their friends who are pregnant and parenting. That tweet tells pregnant and parenting teens that their lives literally suck, discourages them from seeking assistance if they need it, and loving themselves and the choice they made. (If they made it – remember there is no such thing as “legitimate rape;” some young people have their choice taken away and are forced into pregnancies by an act of violence.)
Shaming and fear don’t prevent teen pregnancy. Remember all the years in which abstinence-only was the official policy of the US government? The US was still at the top of the list in teen pregnancy statistics despite this approach. Just say no didn’t work with drugs and it hasn’t worked with sex, either. What does work is teaching teens how their reproductive systems work, how to use safer sex methods, and how to negotiate their naturally burgeoning sexuality and relationships in healthy ways. What does work is looking at the factors that contribute to unintended teen pregnancy – poverty, depression, abuse, and lack of solid sex education – and tackling those, rather than the teens impacted by them. Then, you educate young people about the options they have once they are pregnant – abortion, adoption, or parenting – without judgment and you help them access those options.
Finally, being a teen parent doesn’t mean that your life is over, or that it sucks, or that you made an awful decision. While society, with the help of well-respected organizations like the Candies Foundation, likes to scream about the awful results of teen pregnancy, many young parents are great parents who love their children and are happy with the choices they’ve made. Yes, it is hard to be a teen parent. It’s hard to be a parent in general. But shaming someone after the fact, as demonstrated above, does absolutely nothing at all to help anyone.
Personally, I think the Candies Foundation does more harm than good and we’d all be better off if they weren’t around, pretending to care what happens to young people. They get a lot of corporate money and big celebrities to scare, blame, and shame young people without making a single effort to provide real sex education or real support for pregnant and parenting teens. Sadly, I doubt they’re going away anytime soon. But if you too were upset by their #FridayFact, please tweet your displeasure at @CandiesOrg. Tell everyone you know that they are NOT to be trusted messengers to young people. After all, if you’re not part of the full, comprehensive solution, you are part of the problem.
*If you want to see how a reproductive justice organization works responsibly and effectively with teen parents, please check out the Massachusetts Teen Pregnancy Alliance.