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New York's Teenage Pregnancy Campaign Completely Misses The Mark

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By Lucy Draper

A new teen pregnancy campaign was launched in New York on earlier this month, with the apparent aim of reducing the city's 20,000 annual teen pregnancies. The public information campaign ('information' used in the loosest sense of the word here) is employing many platforms including social media, subway adverts and videos. There's even an enlightening 'choose-your-own-future' text game to help girls learn that it's just not cool to get up the duff.

Produced by the mayoral office and the city's human resource administration, these adverts are, according to Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs aimed at "impulsive" teens and designed to "guide them toward healthier decisions." A main part of the campaign is the text game that allows users to make choices about typical adolescent scenarios. Having discovered they're pregnant, players can then choose whether they will go to the prom, or argue with their parents. Results of these choices range from being called a 'fat loser' at prom by your 'BFF', to being unceremoniously dumped by your 'baby daddy'.

2013-03-20-pregnancyD.png The campaign's posters only emphasise this blame game, focused very much on the girls. The only poster aimed at boys (left) appeals to their finances rather than their paternal instincts, and gives no suggestion 'Dad' has been left to raise their baby by themselves. In contrast, another poster says exactly that to girls, insinuating in the starkest terms that a teenage father is not going to stick around long. Perhaps the little girl on the poster is pondering the imbalanced and backward nature of the campaign. Maybe not.

So whilst the US are rolling out distressed looking infants in an attempt to stop teens wanting to touch each other, the UK are creating websites 'written by young people, for young people', in a rather impressive display that sex education has moved beyond struggling to put a condom on a banana during a biology lesson. The Respect Yourself website, created by the NHS last year is a full frontal look at teenage sex and all the problems that can come with it. It also includes an amusing 'sextionary', where you can learn such words as 'fadge' a combination of the 'fanny' and 'vagina'. Fascinating.

2013-03-20-pregnancym.png But of course, where there's young people and sex, there's someone complaining about it. In the case of Respect Yourself, complaints came in the form of the Family Education Trust, an organisation set up in 1971, who kicked off about the colloquial language. A spokesman for the group, Norman Wells, was shocked by the "crude and sometimes even foul language" of the site, and blasted it as "a grossly irresponsible website and a complete misuse of taxpayers' hard-earned cash." Since the site's most glaring fault is that, despite its best efforts, it still sound like it was written by adults pretending to be teenagers, Norman's comments seem to have missed the point.

But whilst the UK website might be a bit naff, like your mum talking about 'blozzers', at least it gives information and support. The American campaign, with its irritating rhetorical questions and accusatory statistics, offers no advice on contraceptive methods or the choices a pregnant person has. It's all warnings and threats and videos of baby's admonishing the viewer for getting pregnant.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that teenagers don't listen to what they're told. So they should drop the crying toddler and start handing out condoms instead.