No kidding: a bias reconsidered

28 Feb

At a birthday party earlier this month, I met a family practice doctor who told me about her favorite clients: teen moms.

My response: Really? I wanted to hear more.

She said that as a group, they tend to be more natural and relaxed than older moms (who bring lists of questions and concerns to each appointment). It’s not that teen moms care less, pay less attention or just don’t know enough to be concerned: according to this doctor, while they are just as loving as their older counterparts, they simply aren’t as anxious.

Now, this is just one doctor talking, but she certainly has more experience with mothers than I do, and I was really interested in what she had to say, in no small part because she put a spotlight on a bias I’ve had and felt pretty comfortable hanging on to: that teen moms are at an inherent disadvantage in the caretaking game.

While some of that disadvantage is arguably legitimate (less education, less financial stability and independence), there’s a lot of stereotype and presumption that goes along with the label “teen mom.” Do a quick word association: irresponsible, too young, immature… 

Listening to this doctor made me examine my own quiet presumption that teen moms must be less capable, more or less because they are teenagers. Recognizing the conclusions I was jumping to makes me wonder how much well-intended social thinking and action around teen parenting is explicitly or implicitly fueled by negative stereotypes about teen parents, and what it means to address the real social obstacles and individual needs of teen parents without creating deficits where there’s actually strength and resource.

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