Michigan groups seek to break stigma around young parenting

Research shows fewer than half of teen mothers get a high school diploma or GED equivalent

click to enlarge "Fifty percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so why are we super surprised when a portion of that 50% comes from youth?" says Kristie Wilcox, founder of the group She's Got Grit.
"Fifty percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so why are we super surprised when a portion of that 50% comes from youth?" says Kristie Wilcox, founder of the group She's Got Grit.

It is Michigan Young Parent Awareness Day, and groups are spotlighting efforts to support expectant and parenting young people, both in taking care of their kids, and achieving their personal goals.

Research shows fewer than half of teen mothers get a high school diploma or GED equivalent, and just 2% of those who graduate from high school finish college by age 30.

Kristie Wilcox, a University of Michigan student and founder of the group She's Got Grit, which raises money for a $5,000 scholarship for a young Michigan parent in high school, said there are many options for how the money could be used.

"Childcare expenses, like daycare; something I struggled with when I was in school," Wilcox recounted. "Breast pumps, formula, diapers, anything that they could use to support themselves, so they can get that high school diploma, so they can continue on to higher education or whatever career they would want."

After high school, Wilcox attended Washtenaw Community College, and is now at the University of Michigan. She has found far more opportunities for parenting support in college than there were for her in high school. She's Got Grit is planning a 5k run to raise money for the scholarship May 21 in Ann Arbor.

Brittany Batell, program director for the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health, said young parents have the same questions as parents further into adulthood around organizing child care, working through relationships with a co-parent, accessing health care, and more.

"It's something that every parent goes through," Batell acknowledged. "But a lot of times, there's something about the stigma of young parenting, where people tend to shy away from that emotional support. And so, they often find themselves lacking that kind of baseline community care that we see so many other parents get."

She added it is important for schools to make sure there are spaces for diaper changing and breastfeeding, and to accommodate unexcused absences when young parents need to take a child to the doctor, for instance.

Wilcox echoed the importance of breaking the stigma around young parenting. She refrains from using the terms "teen parent" and "teen mom," citing the negative connotations based on TV shows like 16 and Pregnant.

"Fifty percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so why are we super surprised when a portion of that 50% comes from youth?" Wilcox pointed out. "But this stigma that is falsely attached to these young parents puts barriers up for them to succeed."

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