Mainstream media representations of teen parenthood are sensationalized, stigmatized, and almost always female. Our Reality is different.
If we solely relied on mainstream media for representations of what it’s like to be a teen parent, we’d most likely find ourselves staring at two strikingly different versions—neither of which is wholly accurate. The first is a super-sensationalized, edited for entertainment look at teen parenting. There are very few (if any) teens of color shown, completely in contrast to the latest Guttmacher Institute report which states that Latinas have higher birth rates than white teens. The majority of teen mothers also do not find themselves on the cover of weekly gossip magazines, done up in hair and make-up, being paid for their stories. Teen fathers, if they’re shown at all, aren’t the focus and only appear in the periphery during dramatic or tense moments.
On the other side of the spectrum from the practically fetishized teen parents of “reality” shows, are the heavily stigmatized subjects of anti-pregnancy campaigns. Pregnancy prevention programs can certainly be helpful and many organizations do a great job of finding a way to talk frankly about being a young parent without demonizing those who already are. Sadly, not all manage to do so, and it wasn’t all that long ago that both Candie’s and the United Way put out ads that were more than a little offensive. These campaigns, as well as others, have been taken to task by places like The Pushback, a site that provides blogging space for young parents, and Prymface, the personal blog of a woman who became pregnant at sixteen. Yet that doesn’t prevent the stigmatizing stereotypes that crop up in pregnancy prevention campaigns aimed at teens.
With those combined images of teen pregnancy and parenting, it’s no wonder that young parents can often feel as if the world doesn’t see them clearly. I’ve spent the last two years tutoring young mothers, the majority of them Latina, as they work hard toward obtaining their GEDs. These mothers don’t have anyone running after them to buy their stories to splash across the pages of glossy magazines or air between music videos. Yet many of them have a story of their own to share, and the desire for others to hear it.
And they’re not the only ones. Many of the popular reality shows (and subsequent magazine and online coverage) tend to focus on the mothers, leaving young fathers out of the picture. Very rarely will reality shows focus on teen fathers, and if they do, it’s most likely as a plot point, such as nailing home the point that they’re an absentee parent or a volatile presence in their child’s life. Just like teen mothers have stories that deviate from the mainstream narrative, so do teen fathers.
Society has little trouble painting a stereotypical portrait of what a teen father looks like, but doesn’t seem interested in watching or listening to accurate portrayals when it comes to their part of the young parenting narrative. Yet, there are some positive resources out there. The award-winning web series 9INE is a fictitious drama that looks at teen pregnancy/parenting, and is one of the few shows that actually highlights the perspective and experiences of an expecting teen father.
However, series like 9INE aren’t the norm, and the narrative—for both young mothers and fathers—continues to be co-opted by those that are used to packaging stories in neat, easily digestible and entertaining segments, regardless of whether they reflect the reality of most young parents. That’s where we’re stepping in. Working with teen parents for the last couple of years has shown me that they have powerful, moving, and interesting stories to share: they just need more platforms to do so. In that line of thinking, Our Reality was born. Along with my partner Carrie Nelson, our goal is to provide an outlet for teen parents to share their stories, via a web series of documentaries. Unlike the more popular reality shows, the teen parents we work with will have a hand in producing their own stories. They will work on creating narratives that will accompany each video. They will have a say in how they’re presented and represented. As filmmakers, Carrie and I vow to do our best to push back against the current depiction of both young mothers and fathers, and offer them the space to share their realities.
Please check out our Indiegogo campaign page to learn more about how you can support us as we work to provide a platform to help amplify the voices of parents who are either systematically ignored, silenced or sensationalized in mainstream media.
Read more in Education.