Natasha Vianna: For far too long, organizations such as the Candie’s Foundation have been using teen pregnancy prevention resources on strategies that shame teenage mothers and their children. In their May 2013 teen pregnancy prevention campaign, the tagline, “You should be changing the world, not diapers” solely focused on scaring teen girls from wanting to become mothers instead of providing all young people with accurate and useful information. When we launched #NoTeenShame our goal was to raise awareness regarding the unnecessary exploitation and stigmatization of teen mothers while redirecting the Candie’s Foundation to promoting positive messages around delaying pregnancy and parenthood through comprehensive sexual education.
After close to 50 phone calls, over 800 emails, and more than 2,000 tweets to The Candie’s Foundation, we have not been able to reach or speak to Neil Cole, founder of the Candie’s Foundation, or any staff. Imagine how a group of six young moms felt when a nonprofit organization ignored our voices and continued to bash our movement in the media. Instead of responding to us, Neil Cole wrote a dismissive post for The Huffington Post reminding young mothers “children should not be having children.” They sought to render us invisible, but we never accepted defeat.
While our intent was to connect with Neil Cole to create a positive campaign together, we found victory in the way teen moms are being perceived and respected. The number of organizations who have started to improve their strategic messaging campaigns has significantly increased, the conversation around teenage pregnancy and motherhood has shifted to a non-stigmatizing and non-shaming approach, and the importance of comprehensive sexual education has become evident. Teen moms are a valuable asset to society, as we are industrious, motivated women with the potential to change the world, using our choices to have our babies not as a crutch, but as a ladder to build change and empower young women and their children.
We thank you for your support and for believing in our ability to ignite the spark of change. We thank you for standing by us through a difficult issue. We thank you for believing that a group of six young mothers are capable of changing the world.
When the Candie’s Foundation launched a teen pregnancy prevention campaign with the tagline, “You’re supposed to be changing the world… not diapers,” I was outraged by their attempts to shame young parents, people like me. Although I was changing diapers at age 17, I am changing the world -- and so are Lisette, Consuela, Jasmin, Gloria, Marylouise, Christina, and so many other young parents like us across the country. We’re working to make our communities better, and we’re not doing this work in spite of being young parents. Our activism has been shaped by our experiences as young moms; we are working to change the world because we are young parents.
Please sign our petition. We are requesting a meeting with Mr. Neil Cole, Founder of the Candie’s Foundation. We’d like to discuss the impact of the Candie’s shaming campaign on young parents like us, and offer ways the Candie’s Foundation can shift its approaches to include: increasing comprehensive sexual education, putting a halt on shaming tactics, and using messaging that supports and empowers all young people to make the best decisions for themselves.
Becoming a mother at 17, I knew my life was going to get harder but I never expected to face the isolation, judgment, and bitterness from society. I was an honor roll student in high school, but when my teachers discovered I was pregnant, their treatment towards me changed. In front of classmates, I was shamed for my pregnancy and told my life was over. Faced with fear, I left my school and enrolled in another high school. Even in my new high school, the shaming continued. I never let this stigma deter me from my goals: I knew that I could be successful, not just for myself, but for my daughter. I’m working to change the world for the better, not just for both of us, but for her entire generation.
The Candie’s Foundation is using the same old tired, ineffective approaches to teen pregnancy prevention: spending money and using celebrities to push negative campaigns that shame young parents. We would like to see the Candie’s Foundation radically change its response to and perception of what teen pregnancy and parenting means for young people. This means not only using evidence-supported messaging for educating teens on how to prevent pregnancy, but seeing early parenthood as young parents themselves see it, a critical opportunity to overcome obstacles for the future of their families.
Young parents can change the world—we already are. The first things we want to change are stigmatizing messages like the ones the Candie’s Foundation promotes in its advertisements. Will you sign our petition?
I am proud to speak for myself alongside young parents and state and national organizations that support, mobilize, and work with young families across the country.
Meet some of these young mothers who are changing the world:
Lisette Orellana is a graduate student studying nonprofit management, who collaborates with many organizations on raising support for young parents, and recently worked with the National Women's Law Center on a campaign to introduce the support of the Pregnant and Parenting Student Access to Education Act.
Consuela Greene is the Director of Training and Partnerships at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, where she travels all over the state working with schools and community-based organizations to improve the sexual health outcomes of young people in communities where teens need information, access, and opportunities that promote healthy choices and hope.
Jasmin Colon is a Title IX training facilitator for expectant and parenting students in Boston at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, who is also working to help government decision-makers understand the needs of expectant and parenting teens across Massachusetts.
Gloria Malone is a writer who advocates for teen pregnancy prevention through evidence-based comprehensive education and support for teen families, and she blogs about the social injustices of young parenthood and the associated stigma.
Marylouise Kutu-Schubert works with pregnant and parenting teens through the New Mexico Graduation, Reality and Dual-Role Skills Program, providing support for high school graduation and positive parenting and economic success of teen families in 27 school districts across New Mexico.
Christina Martinez is an early childhood educator who touches the lives of 45 students and their families each and every time they walk through her classroom door. As a Head Start parent educator, she has the opportunity to help young parents develop and strengthen their parenting skills.