What if teen parenthood is seen as a window of opportunity?
Teen moms are overlooked, harshly judged, and relegated to the margins of education and society. New Mexico has one of the highest teen birth rates, and teen parents are less likely to finish high school and more likely to live in poverty than non-parent peers. Children of teens are more likely to have infant health problems, do poorly in school, be incarcerated, and become teen parents themselves.
Yet, with the right support, these young women can break chronic cycles of poverty and teen pregnancy.
What? Teen parenthood as an opportunity?
Yes. It has to be, because we cannot support a student's success if we believe her life is over. Our work begins after a young woman chooses to continue her pregnancy; our focus is on her opportunity to reengage with her education. We start with each student's capacity for learning and achievement. That's an opportunity.
Reaching one life, affecting two
Recent and compelling research on educational-outcome disparities along economic lines has focused on children’s critical first three to four years of life. The Mother Tongue Project’s concern is that older, low-performing students get dismissed as lost causes because they bear the burden of inadequate early-childhood education. However, because most teen pregnancies occur among low-income students with a history of low academic performance—and teen parenthood often is a repeating phenomenon—reaching teenage students when they become parents may provide an educational and economic “twofer.”
If teen parents are adequately supported in their resolve to graduate from high school, attend college, and pursue professional goals, they are more likely to achieve these milestones of success. As they reach their goals—partly by re-engaging in education that is relevant to their complex lives—they are better prepared to attend to their children’s early development and set them up for better academic and long-term success.
Why “Mother Tongue”?
- Teen mothers have things to say, and learning to more effectively use their voices—their “mother tongues”—will increase the impact of their stories.
- The experiences of these mothers speak to the experiences of all mothers—they converse in the “mother tongue.”
- Those who speak from and listen to the wisdom of the “mother tongue” gain compassion for its complexities. They are better able to advocate for the critical support of young parents and their children. This affects all of us.