There are myriad reasons why adolescents become parents including wanting to be a parent, lack of access to contraceptives, lack of access to comprehensive sexuality education, and lack of opportunities. Working with youth to delay childbearing and parenting is not inherently wrong, however viewing youth sexuality in a vacuum of “prevention” does not meet the needs of Latina/o youth. Similar to adults, half of youth pregnancies are unintended. In other words, half of youth pregnancies are planned. Acknowledging that youth sexuality is a normal part of development and that some youth will become sexually active as adolescents compels us to think beyond preventing pregnancy. Efforts to address adolescent pregnancy and parenting must expand to address youth’s sexuality and social needs holistically.
In a misguided attempt to support youth in avoiding the perceived “negative consequences” of adolescent parenting, the dominant prevention frame centers on changing individual behavior, which has both intentionally and unintentionally categorized pregnant and parenting youth as a social problem and a “drain” on society. Young Latina/o parents are stereotyped as unsuccessful, irresponsible and unfit caregivers. This punitive strategy of blaming young Latina/o parents and categorizing them as “costs” further stigmatizes the community while ignoring the social, economic, and political factors that shape their lives and behavior.
Providing Latina/o youth support and resources to parent does not enable them to become adolescent parents, it provides them with their legal right to the same educational and economic opportunities as their peers. Young parents are part of many Latina/o families’ reality, and they contribute to California’s socio-economic fabric. Pregnant and parenting youth must be treated with respect and dignity, recognizing that they too form part of our state’s future.
As attacks intensify on women, immigrants and anyone who is not a rich, white, heterosexual, conservative man, the vociferous response in defense of women’s autonomy and health has omitted any discussion about healthy sexuality, acquiescing to conservatives that sexuality is inherently bad. The same can be said in the case of adolescent childbearing and parenting. To many, discussing adolescent pregnancy and parenting among Latinas/os is often an unwanted reminder that youth have their own sexuality. By distorting this issue into a widely “palatable” public health prevention framework, we have undermined the conversation around healthy youth sexuality and pigeon-holed the approach to one that is punitive.