Avoiding Shame And Stigmatization

Adolescents who are pregnant or parents face a host of negative stereotypes and labels.  Whether overtly or subconsciously many people in our society immediately associate teen pregnancy or parenthood, with issues like: promiscuity, public dependence, poverty, and school-dropout.  Surprisingly, these labels are often inadvertently perpetuated with well-meaning social advertising campaigns that focus on reaching teen moms with social services and welfare support. 

To avoid feelings of shame, guilt or judgement a pregnant or parenting teen may isolate themselves, avoiding confrontation with individuals or settings that make them feel stigmatized.  As a result, they may avoid medical care, appointments with social services, school or other peer events – effectively eliminating their critical and much-needed support system.   

In addition to providing a safe, judgement-free, and nurturing environment – clinicians can act as an advocate and serve as a trusted adult in the adolescent’s support system.  Here are some tips for clinicians to create a stigma-free clinical environment:

  • Serve as an advocate:  It’s essential that young parents have a support system and clinicians can play a powerful role in letting them know they are not alone.
  • Change your language:  Avoid using phrases like, “As a young mother/father…” or “As a teen mom…” Instead speak to them “As a new mother/father…” or “As a parent…”
  • Offer recognition and praise:  All adolescents need recognition for successful development, pregnant and parenting adolescents even more so. Recognize and praise “wins” – even seemingly small steps such as keeping a well-child visit or not missing school.
  • Create a safe space to share:  Group programs that bring adolescent parents together, have shown significant promise in improving outcomes for both the teen and their child. Being with other teens that have similar experiences provides a safe environment for sharing.