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The Globe and Mail

New York latest strategy to fight teen pregnancy? Shaming

Honestly, Mom … Chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?

I'm twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.

The words come from weepy children featured in ads plastered across New York City subways and bus shelters, part of a city-wide teen pregnancy prevention campaign that aims to scare young women off having kids with "straight talk."

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The New York Human Resources Administration is responsible for the project.

From an explainer on the administration's website: "[The campaign] shows the high costs teen pregnancy can have for both teen parents and their children. The campaign features ads with hard-hitting facts about the money and time costs of parenting, and the negative consequences of having a child before you are ready."

The efforts aren't seeing much love, with critics slamming the ads for shaming vulnerable teens instead of providing more useful intel, like where to easily access contraceptives and Plan B, since most pregnancies are unplanned.

Planned Parenthood of New York City criticized the ads: "The latest NYC ad campaign creates stigma, hostility, and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood rather than offering alternative aspirations for young people ... The City's money would be better spent helping teens access health care, birth control, and high-quality sexual and reproductive health education, not on an ad campaign intended to create shock value."

Aside from shaming, the program is also strangely juvenile: Teens are encouraged to "Text 'NOTNOW' to 877877 for the real cost of teen pregnancy." When they do, they're invited to play a choose-your-own-adventure game. One involves a pregnant teen named Anaya who ends up ridiculed by her best friend at prom for being a "fat loser," and ostracized by her parents and her "baby daddy" Louis.

"The texts use threats of social isolation, the prospect of losing your boyfriend and petty fat-shaming to drive home the message that teenagers who get pregnant are deserving of hardship and ridicule," writes Salon's Katie McDonough.

What do you make of the ads? Is "straight talk" the way to go with teenagers?

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