Teenage pregnancy in the 21st Century has been a topic of great discussion. As conservative values condemned those who relied upon the welfare state, young mothers in particular proved a very easy scapegoat for those who sought a vulnerable group of people to channel the notion of unworthy scroungers living off the collective taxpayers’ purse. The Vicky Pollard-esque trope of teenage parenthood is at the forefront of the millennial generation’s interpretation of young mothers. She’s an irresponsible, brash, loud, sexual lass from a council estate, pretty much the opposite of what we consider a productive or ideal member of society to be. So when a recent article by the BBC claims “sensible, family-loving teens are behind the drop in teen pregnancy rates” you can be forgiven for feeling relieved that finally there may be less Vicky Pollards in the world who are instead being replaced by a ‘better’ more desirable version of a teenager.
First of all, what must be acknowledged is that this conclusion is drawn from a survey of just 1,000 teenagers. It takes no scientist to realise that such a small sample of 16-18 years olds is barely representative of the general population of young people. Not only that, but such a headline is surely a contradiction of terms. After all, who is more family-centred than a dedicated parent? Regardless of age, it is unfair that the conclusion we are told to draw is that under no circumstances can a pregnant teenager also be sensible and family loving. Such an article is intentionally misleading and a tool designed to divide opinions and turn young people against each other. The article states 4/5 of the 1,000 young people already believe there was a significant stigma attached to teenage parenthood, and this article endeavours to further contribute and reinforce that stigma. Ultimately, there are two conclusions to draw from this article: that generally teenagers are becoming more sensible and family-centric, and that teenage parents are not either of those things.
We must first unpack the idea of “sensible”. Sensible is about as subjective and contextual term as is physically possible. Just a few years ago “sensible” parents didn’t insist that their children wear a seatbelt in the back of the car. Sensible teenagers played out after school with no way of contacting their parents, but were considered sensible if they returned home before 8 o’clock. Sensible 11-year-olds were put in charge of their younger siblings for extended periods of time, and sensible pregnant teenagers married into abusive relationships to save face in their communities. What is “sensible” changes but what sensible means doesn’t.
A sensible person is measured, calculated and complaint, a sensible person doesn’t takes risks and doesn’t step outside conventional social norms. So a sensible teenager is one that doesn’t do what, historically, teenagers have always done - make life “difficult” for those around them, and in this context, that is put forward as being teenage parenthood. It is fair to assume that the article does not intend for the label of sensible to be applied to a teenage parent despite evidence suggesting that for girls from the poorest neighbourhoods, becoming a mother during the teen years may actually help said teen girl choose a path that veers away from delinquency and drugs. Not to mention various research showing that although teen parents do tend to make less money over their life span than non-teen parents, the actual money differences aren’t always significantly different.
As for “family-loving” teenagers, while it is very difficult to suggest being family-loving is a bad thing, it is also rather contradictory to suggest that teenage parents are not family-loving. The primary factors for any successful parent and family are economic and social. If the teenage parent has a stable income and a solid support system then there is very little evidence to suggest that either mother or child are at any disadvantage compared to a mother in their mid 30s with a low income and no support system. As ever, age is not the variable when it comes to an individual’s ability to be a loving parent. The article also describes how the average amount of time spent on electronic devices was approximately four or five hours a day. Such teenagers are hardly family-loving if the majority of their spare time is spent staring at screens and socialising online with people other than family.
The truth is that we hold the morality of teenage parents at a higher esteem than of their older counterparts, allowing conclusions to be drawn about their value, place and legitimacy in society where others are not questioned. The only conclusion we can draw from the statistical evidence is that, whilst there may be less pregnant teenagers, it is certainly not because teenagers are becoming more sensible and family-centric like our conservative counterparts would have us believe. Instead, teenagers are finding other ways of socialising that although fits an idealistic version of what it is to be a teenager, yet we have no evidence to suggest that spending half your day on Snapchat and Instagram is any better than being a well-supported teenage parent.
It is also worth noting however that very rarely did a sensible member of society ever make history.