March 8, 2013 at 9:23 AM ET
A new ad campaign against teen pregnancy in New York City has toddlers in tears and some advocates fuming over the harsh messages.
“Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years,” says one ad featuring a solemn-faced toddler, while another reads, “Honestly Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you.” The ad with the teary boy says: “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”
The posters, which debuted on Monday, note that parents must pay child support until a child turns 21, that 90 percent of teen parents don’t marry each other, and that parents should expect to spend $10,000 annually on child rearing. The city says the campaign shows “the negative consequences of having a child before you are ready.”
“We want to make it clear to teenagers that there are significant responsibilities and burdens and consequences that come with parenthood and teenagers need to hear strong messages,” Robert Doar, commissioner of the city’s Human Resource Administration, told TODAY.
Critics blasted the ads as stigmatizing teen moms rather than addressing the root causes of teen pregnancy and poverty.
"I believe the city's new campaign is negative towards teen moms and it perpetuates a stereotype that teen moms are not successful when really that’s not the case,” said Geneva Farrow, who had a son at 19 and founded a mentoring group for teen mothers. “And there are many teen moms who defy the odds."
Planned Parenthood of New York City also denounced the public education campaign, saying the posters stigmatize teen parents.
“The latest NYC ad campaign creates stigma, hostility, and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood rather than offering alternative aspirations for young people,” Haydee Morales, a vice president for the group, said in a news release. “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.”
But supporters say strong ads like these, similar to ones used in Milwaukee, actually do work to deter teen pregnancy.
"The teen birth rate in Milwaukee has decreased nearly 35 percent since the inception of this campaign in 2006," Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact at United Way of Greater Milwaukee, said on TODAY.
New York City says that while its teen pregnancy rate dropped 27 percent in the last 10 years, there are more than 20,000 teen pregnancies a year, most of which are unintended. The city requires sex education and provides emergency contraception in some schools.
About 4,000 of the new ads are being posted around the city, on subways and bus shelters. The ads have a number teens can text to get more information about unintended pregnancies. The city's ad campaign includes a mobile component, which has also come under fire for its "shaming" tone.