When I advocate for better supports for pregnant and parenting students, a lot of people throw back the myth that helping them succeed in school will be seen as an endorsement of teen pregnancy and will encourage other students to get pregnant. And I tell people all the time: girls don’t get pregnant just because they can get subsidized child care or tutoring assistance. It’s far more complex than that, and the idea that “pregnancy is contagious” is old-fashioned and unfounded. To the contrary, the stigma that comes with being a teen parent is alive and well. Movies and TV shows about the subject and celebrities getting pregnant as teenagers have not changed that.
This was one of the themes of last night’s episode of High School Moms. The students of Florence Crittenton remarked about how annoying it is that so many people judge teen moms and assume the worst of them. One said, “I’m still in school; I’m not a dropout.” A teacher remarked that being at FloCrit is nice for the girls because “they are not an outcast here.” But even at a separate school dedicated to pregnant and parenting students, they are not immune from the power of stereotypes in our society. And the good news is that they are determined to prove those stereotypes wrong.
Amber, who we met in a previous episode, had a baby at age 14 and herself is the daughter and granddaughter of teen moms. Her grandmother was pregnant at age 14 too, and unlike Amber she had to stop her education at that point, because her father told her she had to stay home with her child. Amber is motivated and very focused on breaking the cycle of teen pregnancy in her family. She talks with her mother about what she can do to keep her daughter from becoming a teen parent.Her mother says, “Keep her involved” in dancing or sports. And that is good advice, as studies show that playing sports is linked to better educational outcomes, including better grades and higher scores on standardized tests, as well as a lower risk of teen pregnancy.
We also saw 16-year old Londisha open up in a way she has not in prior episodes. She said: “Having Josiah did change my life. Now I’m going to school and I’m on a path to where I’ll graduate and stuff, so yeah, he did change me.” She has lots of disciplinary referrals for talking back in class and is seen by her teachers as a problem student; this was most of what we heard about when we were introduced to Londisha in a previous episode. But she is holding it together despite complicated dynamics at home and the fact that her child’s father is in prison. She says, “Josiah has had a big impact on my life – a good impact.” We see her getting up early to get ready and commute to school; we see her doing homework on the bus.
She says that even the adults at her relatively supportive school, being as focused as they are on her disciplinary referrals, “don’t realize how much I really care about my grades.” She tells us that she wants to graduate from high school and become a pharmacist. By the end of the show, she seems to have a new understanding with one of her teachers and is trying hard to turn her act around.
And for the first time we met Aida, who is 17 years old and already has three children. She started “partying” at age 10, drinking at age 11, and was pregnant for the first time by age 13. She was abused by a prior boyfriend and was arrested for getting in a fight with another girl, which led to her losing custody of her two oldest children. Now she is back in school at FloCrit, she got custody back, and she is determined to finish school. She says “my kids are #1 for me” and “I want to prove everybody wrong – show I can do it.”
Breaking the cycle of teen pregnancy and battling stereotypes is no easy task, but it’s obvious that these students are determined to do it. Hopefully Florence Crittenton can provide the support and guidance necessary for their success.