New York City Is Shaming Teen mums On The Subway

New York City government’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) just plastered a series of confrontational anti-teen pregnancy posters around city subways that is sparking a debate: Do the ads inappropriately shame teen mums, or are they a necessary serving of tough medicine?

(There’s also a ridiculous text message-based game component that we’ve posted photos of below.)

The ads show crying children condemning their mothers. Text reads, “Honestly mum… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” and “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”

teen mum nyc ad subway

Photo: HRA

The other two ads target more than just the mother:

teen mum subway ad nyc

Photo: HRA

“This campaign makes very clear to young people that there’s a lot at stake when it comes to deciding to raise a child,” Mayor Bloomberg said.

An opinion piece in the New York Daily News defends the campaign: “The ads are not racist or sexist, or about shaming. They are about alerting young women to the fallout of single motherhood. Half of teens never think about what an unplanned pregnancy would do. The more who wise up, the better.”

But many others disagree, calling out the ads as an attempt to shame young mothers who chose to keep their children after an unplanned pregnancy without offering real resources for teen mums. There are also complaints that the ads appear racially charged since most of the babies look as though they’re minorities.

On the blog The Push Back, former teen mum Natasha Vianna noted that these ads in no way prevent accidental pregnancies but rather make an already difficult situation even harder. She writes, “It’s this very concept of shaming teen mums that drives us into a deeper hole of isolation. I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was a teen mum, I didn’t want to ask for help, I refused to apply for any aid, and I put myself in unhealthy situations so I wouldn’t have to face the judgment of others. It was horrible.”

Laura Beck at Jezebel writes, “What’s the plan here? Just making everyone feel bad? Where’s the mention of education and assistance?”

Although there was one surprising and bizarre “educational” component to the campaign. 

At the bottom of each ad, there’s a prompt to text 877-877 to learn more. When users text the number, they are launched into a choose-your-own-adventure text based game in which you assume the role of either Anaya or Louis, teen parents.

The first prompt is as follows:

teen mum hra ad nyc

Photo: iPhone screenshot

So if she goes to prom, Anaya is immediately socially isolated and deemed a fat loser by the people she is closest too.

The other alternative wasn’t much better. If Anaya stays home, she gets in a massive fight with her parents. Again indicating that teen mums will be rejected by those who they count on most.

teen mum mobile hra nyc ad

Photo: iPhone Screengrab

Other portions of the game are equally dire. Anaya must drop out of school, she is abandoned by Louis, and her mother cries when she sees her working her second job as a waitress to pay for her baby’s clothes.

Louis’ path almost entirely revolves around money, his inability to go to “the Garden” with his “boys.” If he chooses to continue hanging out with his boys and watching Knicks games he gets his “drivers licence suspended for not paying child support! Now he has to apply for a work-only permit just to get to his job & school.”

Bloomberg was also criticised for NYC’s hard-line approach to anti-obesity marketing campaigns.

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