by Ebonie Johnson Cooper
As I’m commuting this morning I look up and see an ad with a cute little baby. My first thought was ‘Awww sweet’ then I read the copy: I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen. Then I thought, ‘Oh wow. wow!’ Like most tech savvy millennials, I snap a picture for social media sake and carry on. Then I transfer to my next train and boom! There’s another one. This time NYC is warning me to have a job because a kid will cost me. Ya don’t say?! I snap a picture. As I’m prepping my instagram for posting these jarring ads, I realized this is part of the new NYC Human Resources Administration ad campaign the pastor of the church I attend spoke about Sunday. He said folks didn’t like them. I could see why. But he also said they were necessary. I happen to agree.
I’ve always been one for shock campaigns. Obesity. Homelessness. Animal abuse. Gun violence. You name an cause and 9 times out of 10 I will probably err on the side that grabbing your target’s attention is the best route. Same goes for shows like A&E’s Scared Straight and its much harsher cousin, Beyond Scared Straight. Kids want to be a bad arses, welp, welcome to prison. Makes sense to me. Maybe it’s also the marketer in me that understands the importance of direct messaging?
This new NYC Human Resources Administration ad campaign has everyone up in arms, from Planned Parenthood to the Village Voice. Me? I say go for it. These hott in the pants children need a dose of reality. MTV’s Teen Mom show has made the reality of teen motherhood ‘do-able’ or even ‘attainable.’ Have a kid? Get on MTV? Become an overnight celebrity? YES! I mean, come on. The audience might see these young girls struggle but don’t digest the real hardship because of the perceived celebrity that comes with being on television.
I don’t believe there are enough truths in our world about being a teenage mother unless, well, you are one. My best friend growing up was the child of a teen mother. Her mother had her at 16 and by the time we became friends her mother was only 21. Her mother never made it a secret that she had her as a teenager. In fact, she used it often as a teachable moment for us growing up. She never minced her words about the risks of teen sex and made it very clear, while she loved her daughter very much, it was difficult and urged us not to make her same mistake. While I didn’t fully comprehend all of her lessons until I became an adult, I do know growing up so closely with a teen mom instilled in me never to become one. Unless our girls experience that type of reality so close to home, I doubt they really get it. They watch from afar, seeing all the sugar-coated glory that comes with cute clothes, teen mom superstars, and dreams of loving someone to fill a void they have, that they miss the real deal of being a parent so young.
The NYC HRA campaign asks the hard questions, kids don’t think about: What happens when the 17 year old father walks out? What kind of job are you REALLY going to get at 16 that will afford you the life to raise a child adequately? Who’s going to watch your kid while you’re in school? What about when you become 18 or 21 and want to party like the rest of your friends? Look. Teen parenthood is real and these kids need to know it in a very plain way. I’m sure there are a number of resources for teen mothers and all teen mothers don’t fall victim to the stereotypes- like my friend’s mother- but why even have to live the life to prove the system wrong?
Call the NYC campaign harsh shock awareness but what else is teaching these kids not to have babies? Not everyone ‘at risk’ youth is enrolled in a youth program. The kids enrolled in youth programs get the message first hand. They end up being the choir, we need to preach to the streets.
I applaud the city of New York for being so daring and putting the truths about teen parenthood on the radar. Perhaps the kids who need it most will see it and realize having a baby as a child ain’t all what it’s cracked up to be.
What do you think? Is NYC being fair? Are shock campaigns about sensitive topics the way to go?