The Children’s Defense Fund’s media materials advocating against teenage pregnancy all rely on a fear of pregnancy to deliver their message in ways that teens might relate with. One refers to motherhood as being grounded, another implies that guys will run away from women who are pregnant (with the implication being that pregnant women are not attractive to men), and a third equates a pregnant belly with an overgrown pimple. While each of these aim to make pregnancy relatable in negative ways, as many teens are concerned with their personal freedom in not being grounded, receiving attention from others, or their physical appearance, the tactic assumes that pregnancy is often a choice. Here, the ads work to make this choice seem as unattractive as possible.
The problem with these ads is they all imply that pregnancy is inherently shameful or unwanted. While it may reiterate to teens the social consequences of teenage pregnancy, it perhaps does not communicate how to prevent pregnancy from occurring in the first place, or it does not consider teens who see no problem with becoming mothers at a young age. For instance, a teen with a personal fable that romanticizes pregnancy would not be affected by these ads. In order to penetrate this fable, there should be more data on how one’s life can be changed by pregnancy at a young age, such as achieving personal goals. All of the problems listed in the Children’s Defense Fund ads are temporary experiences, such as a pimple; in order to create more effective messaging, values such as showing how teenage mothers are more likely to not have a satisfying professional career, or other socioeconomic indicators, may be more effective. Another tactic would be to promote safe sexual intercourse or encourage abstinence, rather than seeking to shame pregnant teens.
If the goal is to reduce teenage pregnancy, then materials should be designed to advocate mature contraception use. If there is messaging designed to warn teens of consequences of pregnancy, then they should relate to other barometers such as providing statistics regarding teenage pregnancies like showing how teen pregnancy can lead to poverty (Lombardo, 2018); teenage pregnancy has a correlation with higher dropout rates (CDC, 2018); young women who become pregnant on average earn 67% less than women who do not become pregnant as teens (Institute for Family Studies, 2016); or that teens who become pregnant are more likely to experience depression (Huus, 2010). These are more long-term consequences associated with teenage pregnancy, and they may be more effective than simply providing ads delivering shocking messages such as equating parenthood with being grounded, or showing how pregnancy is similar to an outbreak of pimples.
The goal in reducing teenage pregnancy should therefore aim to provide as much knowledge as possible to teens, who are intelligent enough to understand concepts such as poverty or depression. There should be support for safe contraception use, or encouraging abstinence, alongside materials designed to convey this messaging. Ads such as the ones used by the Children’s Defense Fund may play a role, but they should not be the primary form of messaging used. Scaring teens away from pregnancy might be helpful to some extent, but if this is grounded in more statistical evidence showing the long-term consequences of pregnancy, such as lower income rates and potential poverty, then the teen will be able to make a more informed decision in the long run that would promote better pregnancy-avoidance behavior. Knowledge would be the best deterrent in this regard, so providing teens with actual statistical knowledge they can interpret would most likely be the recommended way to reduce teenage pregnancy rates.