When I'm not mothering a teen or writing about mothering a teen, I create advertising. So, a recent story in the ad industry trades resonated with me on multiple levels.
The New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services is spending almost half a million dollars on a program designed to educate teens — and dissuade them from prematurely making babies.
Creatively, the campaign puts words in babies' mouths. The little ones featured on the NYC transit ads upbraid their moms (and in one case, dads) for making the wrong decision. Or the right decision several years too soon.
Here's what the little ones have to say ...
"Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars each year."
"Honestly, Mom ... chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?"
"I'm twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen."
"Dad, you'll be paying to support me for the next 20 years."
Most of the ads end with the line "Think being a teen parent won't cost you?"
The idea being ... "Think again."
They are invasive, a little bit irreverent, and most importantly sobering. That is no doubt the objective. But, not everyone agrees with the approach.
Planned Parenthood, an organization that I support 100%, has issues with the campaign and is being very vocal about them. According to Vice President of Education and Training Haydee Morales. "Hurting and shaming communities is not what’s going to bring teen pregnancy rates down." She insists that the campaign "creates stigma, hostility and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood rather than offering alternative aspirations for young people"
"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."
In response, the mayor's office defended the campaign and its ability to "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."
I'm torn. As an advertising creative director, I love the campaign. As a woman who waited to have a baby until she was thirty-five, I'm nodding in agreement. Even at that (according to my OB-GYN records) "advanced maternal age" and with a good career and a husband, raising a baby was no picnic. As the mother of a teen, I want us to get these messages into my daughter's head in any and every way we can.
And yet, of course, the issues are not so black and white. As Morales points out, often "It’s not teen pregnancies that cause poverty, but poverty that causes teen pregnancy."
In the end, I think we have to judge the campaign by a couple of factors: who is the target audience and what are the current market conditions? In other words, what messages are already out there on this subject, how have they been received, and how do we effectively reinforce the good — and counter the bad.
It's called fighting fire with fire.
Let's start with the teens. They are generationally the poster children for attention deficit disorder. You better deliver your key points STAT or you lose them. These ads, which Planned Parenthood, described as "shocking," do that. Second, other than well-meaning but apparently ineffectual advice from parents, clergy or (if allowed) high school health ed teachers, these teens get their information from the media. Shows like "Secret Life of the American Teenager," 16 and Pregnant," and "Teen Mom" tend to glamorize the condition even as they dramatize the issues. Then there are the celebrities like Bristol Palin, Jamie Lynn Spears, Solange Knowles. No matter what goes on behind closed doors, they always look pretty happy on the cover of People magazine. "Having a baby was the best thing I ever did." Blah blah blah.
The thing is, if you aren't a pop princess before you get pregnant at sixteen, you won't be one afterwards either. Sorry.
So, I'm all for this campaign which delivers such important information out of the mouths of babes.
From their lips to teens' ears.