Yearbooks are a big deal in high school. Students lug them to classes to have friends autograph the pages, flipping through to find pictures highlighting their favorite moments from the year. A school in Arizona opened the door to controversy by including photos of pregnant teens and teen moms with their children.
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The teen mom yearbook controversy

Parents and students in Arizona found something different within the pages of the Mesa High School yearbook this year. Among the more traditional photo spreads featuring football players and scenes from school plays, pages 40 and 41 contained photos and thoughts from teen moms at the high school. The yearbook photo collage is titled, "I'm working a double shift." There are parents and students on both sides of the issue, and an online poll shows people feel the photos don't belong in the yearbook.

The problem with hiding teen moms

Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist who has specialized in adolescent psychology for more than 30 years, explains why she believes the yearbook photos deserve a place in a book chronicling the school year. In an article on the Today website, she says, "We have, as a community, been doing a disservice to our girls for a long time by making them live with shame and embarrassment and secrets. And you know what shame and embarrassment and secrets lead to? They lead to anxiety and depression. Teenage girls have three times the rate of depression as teen boys ... because we encourage them to be people pleasers and good little girls, and to keep secrets.”

Being a teen mom isn't easy

Being a first-time parent is brutal in many ways. For the first time, your life is completely dedicated to the needs of someone else instead of to your own well-being. Moms sacrifice sleep, time alone and showers to tend to their children. Teen moms do those things, and the ones in the Mesa High School yearbook are doing them while continuing their education. Teen moms face the loss of friends, the judgment of people in their communities and the struggle to readjust their life plans and goals to include another person.

A yearbook spread doesn't glamorize teen parenthood

Featuring two pages of smiling photographs in a yearbook doesn't glamorize the idea of being a teen mom. There aren't platitudes within the pages about how easy it is to raise a baby, and one of the subheadings is "Mixed emotions." The photographs, like all of the photos in a yearbook, are small snapshots of a life — a way to commemorate happy times during what can be a tough experience. Seeing photos of a teen mom with her child won't encourage other teens to emulate that experience.

Yearbooks aren't guidebooks to life

For the most part, yearbooks are memory keepers. They highlight moments that matter — honor societies and marching bands, service clubs and student government. Not all students spend their high school careers in those moments. For some students, like teen moms, simply attending class and working toward a diploma and future education or career plans is an accomplishment. Their successes should be credited, too.

Support teen moms instead of shaming them

The adage: "It takes a village to raise a child," is achingly pertinent when it comes to teen moms. Most high schoolers and college students aren't worried about deciding between breastfeeding or bottle feeding or figuring out the best method for childcare. Further education is invaluable for teen moms, but they need support from their families and communities to make that possible. Supporting young girls as they raise their own children is important to their ability to make the best possible life for their children — which is what all mothers want. Allowing a photo spread in a yearbook may not seem like support in the traditional sense, but it lets teen moms know their lives are seen, instead of forcing them to retreat to shadows and feel ashamed of the tough choices they make every single day of their lives.

More about public shaming

Shame is not a parenting strategy
Hey SELF, shaming women is never cool
Teen girls are not responsible for boys' behaviors