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Teenage Motherhood on the BBC

On Wednesday 22nd May 2019, Kimberly Jamie was on BBC Look North and the Emma Barnett show on BBC Radio 5 Live sharing thoughts and findings from a Cancer Research UK grant which focused on health beliefs and behaviours of adolescent mothers.

The project was funded by CRUK as part of their focus on health promotion and cancer prevention in “harder to reach” groups and looked at health among young mothers in three areas of the UK – Belfast, Bristol and Northeast England. As part of the it’s 2019 We are Middlesbrough project (in which the BBC showcases stories from the town), the BBC was particularly interested in why it is that Middlesbrough has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the UK and what life’s like for young mothers in Middlesbrough. As with most sociological questions, the answers are complex, multifaceted, and rooted in all sorts of factors such as families, education, locality, culture, work. Unfortunately, I only had a couple of minutes!

What Kimberly shared with the BBC is the need for a more nuanced, sociological approach to teenage pregnancy where we stop seeing teenage pregnancy as a personal failure arising from “problem” families/areas/cultures.

While we know that teenage pregnancy is more likely to happen in circumstances of poverty and social exclusion, policy needs to stop asking what would prevent girls in these circumstances becoming pregnant and start asking why these circumstances (e.g. widening inequality, poor state education, housing and food poverty, insecure labour markets) exist in the first place. This would shift the focus/blame from individual young women and onto structural inequalities, which would alleviate some of the stigma that our participants described feeling on a daily basis.

Kimberly's research has also showed the need to listen to young mothers themselves. This shouldn’t mean asking them about what would’ve stopped them getting pregnant but talking to them about their experiences, their ambitions, their lives, their children, and what’s good about being a young mother. Our participants described teenage parenthood as an enriching experience which, in some cases, had shifted them onto a positive track in life, had cemented relationships with partners, and brought family closer together.

Some of the participants also talked about their educational and career ambitions which they could pursue later in life unencumbered by decisions about maternity leave and career breaks. Yet, these kinds of stories are invisible in policy-making, which continually frames teenage pregnancy, and by extension teenage mothers, as a problem to be “solved”.

The first paper from our research project can be found here: http://dro.dur.ac.uk/23909/ and you can catch the BBC programmes on iplayer.

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