Let's Empower Young Dads, Not Stigmatize Them

A number of recent campaigns have taken an unfortunate approach to trying to tackle the issue of teen pregnancy. Rather than supplying youth with the tools and information they desperately need, they've chosen to simply try to shame young people out of parenthood, a tactic that's not only ineffective but is deeply hurtful to young parents. But one of the worst aspects of these campaigns is how they stereotype young fathers.

A recent, widely criticized campaign in New York City, for example, tells potential young mothers that their male partners will leave if they get pregnant, completely ignoring the realities of the many young dads across the country who are loving fathers and partners. A similar ad campaign from the Candie's Foundation might be even worse because it essentially ignores young dads all together, focusing solely on female teens, as if they got pregnant alone. These campaigns tell young people their lives are over if their partner gets pregnant and that having a baby 'sucks'. What's worse, these campaigns do not offer any comprehensive tools or resources for young people to turn to for questions about sex, sexuality, contraception and prevention. The blame and shame that these ad campaigns promote actively undermine young men who want to choose to be actively involved fathers.

Ad campaigns like these are clearly offensive to young moms. But they're also incredibly offensive to young dads who are portrayed, at best, as invisible and, more often, as actively unengaged and incompetent. We know this is false -- many young fathers are devoted to positive parenting, and they need public acknowledgment of this important work, not stigma.

This Father's Day, shouldn't we start to empower young dads, and all dads, instead of stigmatizing and shaming them? I think so. That's why the National Latina Institute has joined with organizations and coalitions, like the Strong Families movement, across the country to launch #NoTeenShame to call on the Candie's Foundation to have a meeting with young parents and re-evaluate their approach to ending teen pregnancy. You can join by signing our petition here. When we meet with the Candie's Foundation, we'll be sure to stress the importance of including young men in future campaigns.

And that's not the only place we can empower dads this Father's Day. Fathers also have a critical role in maintaining the open dialogue that youth need to both prevent unintended pregnancy -- and in ensuring youth have access to the information and tools that will help them stay healthy. Research shows us that Latino/a parents are deeply concerned about the sexual health of their children. It also shows that parents, including fathers, in our community don't always feel like they have the information and tools needed to talk to their children about these important matters.

That's why it's so important for dads to be empowered to not only talk to your own children, but to advocate for the rest of our community. Dads are key to ensuring our children's schools teach age-appropriate, comprehensive sex ed, that our youth have access to contraception and that young mothers and fathers are supported, not stigmatized. We should advocate for programs that help dads talk to their kids about reproductive health or support healthy families and young fathers, like the recent initiatives by the Obama administration.

We know that fathers across the country, including many young fathers, care deeply about parenting their children and protecting their reproductive health. This Father's Day, let's support them by pushing back against stigma and supporting tools that help them parent. That's a Father's Day gift that's good for all of us.