A new advertising campaign in New York City, paid for by the city government, lays the guilt on thick to potential teenaged mothers. One billboard reads, “Honestly, Mom, chances are, he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” On another, a crying baby says, “I’m twice as likely NOT to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”
This so-called “shame and blame” campaign has drawn criticism from Planned Parenthood and, according to Erika Christakis of Time magazine, “other health care providers who argued that the ads marginalize young women who are in need of services, no scarlet letters.”
On the other hand, a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, written by Richard V. Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, raises the possibility that shaming might not be such a bad idea after all. The backlash, Reeves says, “is the allegedly ‘liberal’ response. But liberals should think twice: shame is an essential ingredient of a healthy society, particularly a liberal one. It acts as a form of moral regulation, or social ‘nudge,’ encouraging good behavior while guarding individual freedom.”
While some may fantasize about a world without moral judgment, in which issues like teen pregnancy carry no stigma at all, Reeves continues, “We must not shy away from shame.”
Indeed, a spokesman from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office, while defending the billboards by pointing out that they are just one component of a multifaceted approach that includes school clinics and sex education, said, “It is well past time when anyone can afford to be value-neutral when it comes to teen pregnancy.”
But is shaming young people really the best way to solve the problem? Christakis, of Time, says, “If we want to get serious about values, we might try an approach with a much more successful track record of behavior change: paying teenagers not to get pregnant.” For every person, Christakis suggests, who makes it to the age of 21 without becoming pregnant or impregnating someone else, the government could pay a cash bonus using the funds that would otherwise be used to support teen mothers and care for their children. The cash incentive could reduce the number of teen pregnancies, while teaching “self-regulation, patience and the ability to plan for the future – all valuable life skills.”
Is shaming young mothers the best way to limit teen pregnancy? Would a financial incentive reduce the amount of teen mothers? Or will these ideas do nothing but exacerbate the situation?