From Diapers to Dance Floor

For teenagers who are pregnant or already mothers, the fairy-tale aspect of prom night is especially potent: They can transform themselves for a few hours and feel free.


Comments: 61

  1. One of the saddest stories I've read in a long time. Kids having kids, in some cases multiple kids. It's nice these children are getting a rare night of glamor but the real-life future is so bleak for them all. I dream of a day when we become enlightened, when we break the cycle of poverty in America through easy-to-obtain birth control (maybe even compensating girls who take it?) and all agree that it is in all of our best interests to provide quality education for all.

    Until these things happen, America is headed to third world status where we brag about our country while everyone else giggles.

  2. Rather than compensation for using contraception, I’ve considered that daycare for teen parents be billed to them and then balance put on hold, and then the debt forgiven when they complete a specified level of education, such as high school or an associates degree. No graduation, you repay the debt. I thought this through when I heard teacher colleagues complain that almost their whole monthly paycheck paid for childcare for two at the same facility where their students’ children got childcare for free. As an adult parent, I don’t care how well prepared you are, nothing readies you for the sticker shock of daycare. These younger parents should understand what a blessing subsidized childcare is.

  3. This is exactly why Planned Parenthood has to be funded, to provide the counseling and access to multiple forms of birth control.

  4. Reading this article made me feel dirty and voyeuristic, like it was glamorizing what should only be recognized as tragedy.
    These are people who have made terrible life choices forever limiting and changing their career options and life trajectory, all before the age of 18 when the rest of us begin that journey.
    And we're supposed to be enriched somehow by looking at a bunch of professional portraits of uneducated/impoverished children who now have their own children and are ignorantly celebrating that misfortune?
    Half of these pregnant children in the article haven't even given birth yet. Wouldn't a better opportunity for this subject matter be to ask these poor souls the reasons they've decided against abortions and salvaging their own nascent lives?
    This article reads like one of those ASPCA ads with Sarah McLachlan singing, except the cute animals are all consciously self-harming.

  5. Beautiful! This will be an night for all of them to cherish. Motherhood is not easy and celebrations like these give these young mothers a new experience.

  6. Agree, everyone should have the opportunity for prom! When prom came time happen on my senior year the few that where pregnant already had their babies. This was '98, I was happy they got the to experience the occasion.
    I went to prom with my now husband. I had really strict parents, I was no bad girl or defiant one. My husband loved me the day he saw me in jr high (he always says this). Always tried get me to date him. My mom pregnant at 18- no way!
    Of all things it was Cosmo and Teen Mag that helped me learn about birth control. BC pills are great, but I should have opt to non- hormonal IUD, hormones that are in certain BC will kill your sex drive(my disclaimer for certain women/teens). We need proper sex. ed, talk of birth control, consent, domestic violence, rape, and being talked into sex( if it be no condom, pulling out, promising use condom, no care/ or promise when you are in pain, but not helping when in pain or stopping, or head pusher to his crotch).

  7. I read the mission statement of this school, and I applaud it. But do they include health and sexuality counselling for these young women and their boyfriends, as well as free access to IUDs, the pill and abortion services? No 17 year old should be getting pregnant once, never mind twice.

  8. According to the school's handbook, all students are required to complete a four week health course which includes comprehensive sex ed. The school's also partnered with the local Planned Parenthood chapter, which provides birth control counseling.

  9. Agreed. A teenager here with two children. Two thirds of students are pregnant or already parents. What kind of "Leadership Academy is this? Third-world and going nowhere but to a lifetime of welfare and dead-end jobs. Would be interesting to find out how many of these students are "dreamers" or illegal migrants.

  10. What’s being a dreamer got to do with it? We could also find out how many are left-handed, but that’s kind of pointless, too.

  11. It is especially important for children who are raising their own children to be able to celebrate all the "normal" rites of passage. Prom is such an accepted part of growing up that to be denied, as many young mothers are, is heartbreaking. I am delighted to see it given the importance it deserves by Nowell Leadership Academy. Brava for giving these young people the education they need, and the rites of passage they deserve!

  12. As a former teen mother, I faced a set of obstacles that seemed insurmountable at the time. My son was born when I was 15, we spent time in foster care and homeless shelters. As such, I couldn't go to my prom and wouldn't have been able to afford a dress anyway. Entirely my fault for getting pregnant, yes. But it is more helpful to be surrounded by people with a modicum of understanding, rather than people being condescending. I had a guidance counselor tell me my son and I would amount to nothing. I also had teachers rooting for me, and that had more of an effect than the former. As such, I got my GED, and got off the welfare system within 2 years. I graduated from college, then obtained my MBA from a highly regarded university. My son graduated from college last year and now serves in the Army. So, we're not all failures. But had it not been for those influencers who were in my corner (as opposed to those who saw my son and I as doomed discards) we would not be where we are today. It's very easy to pass judgment, as others have done in the comments section. But it takes lot more more heart and compassion to make a meaningful difference in a teen mom's life.

    Thank you for your non judgmental comment.

  13. Thanks for highlighting the beauty and joy of these young mothers. Their lives are not easy and their dual dedication to their children and their education is admirable. Hats off to their teachers, nurses, and leaders who recognize the value of each person and work to support their success!

  14. Let’s not glamorize the topic of teen pregnancy and motherhood. While every parent deserves a break, teenagers are hardly fully formed adults, and should be better educated on family planning.

  15. A box of condoms is a lot cheaper than a prom gown, let alone what teenage motherhood will entail in the years to come. This article is a billboard for starting sex education as early as possible.

  16. Instead of a fluff piece, the Times should do some real reporting by following a handful of these ‘happy’ kid mommies for a few years and tell us how it all worked out. And also tabulate the overall cost of these families to American taxpayers. It is sad that this is considered normal in any way, given that the statistical likelihood they will be impoverished is as high as the teen pregnancy rate in that school.

  17. Birth control is free. Getting pregnant and giving birth at 16 is entirely preventable. There is also adoption as a last resort. There's something else going on here.
    Prom night won't overcome a feeling of hopelessness rooted in childhood. Maybe they think having a child is all they are capable of doing? As long as these children are burdened with children they will not be able to move forward. And their children will struggle to break out of the cycle.

  18. Though probably symptomatic of something bigger, the immaturity and sense of entitlement of one of these students is striking:

    “It’s honestly not as hard as people make it seem. It’s really easy. They go to day care. When I leave school I go pick them up and I go home and do my school work and clean.”

    Yes, raising children is a hard, full time job. Rewarding, yes, But “really easy”? No. She should be grateful that “they go to daycare” in the place where she goes to school. Just imagine if she did not have this leadership academy and had to get an job and pay for daycare...

  19. Yeah, that comment didn't sit well with me, either. It may be immaturity on her part rather than a malign sense of entitlement ("It's so cool that I get daycare! It's just something schools do!" vs. "Give me the daycare, you owe it to me"). Nevertheless, she and every teen girl who benefits from this program need to comprehend (1.) that the services being provided to them have been no doubt begrudgingly made available from the public's limited resources; and (2.) that they're among the very, very few pregnant teenagers in the U.S. who don't have to scramble for to secure even substandard care for their babies.

  20. Per the school's handbook, it helps students find day care, but doesn't pay for it, although it has arrangements with a couple of centers to provide emergency care if necessary.

  21. Teen parenthood is nothing to glamorize. The parents and their children are at high risk for a life of poverty and misery. And some of them are already going for second pregnancies? These students need intensive education, not prom

  22. Lovey photos! A big thank you to the Times for recklessly glamorizing and celebrating what is quite possibly the biggest problem in any society - unprepared single parents. Shameless. I can’t wait for the follow up articles about how we have failed these girls’ children.

  23. We actually live in a world were right is wrong and wrong is right .. The future is very scary..

  24. From the comments I've read, people still think that teen pregnancy is due to lack of info about birth control. Look, we live in a society where birth control is available to all and where kids know about sex much more so than in the past. I taught junior high and high school for 32 years and I know that kids who get pregnant today are usually not ignorant about sex and its consequences. It's that these kids are simply looking for some meaning in their lives, some type of accomplishment and this is the best they can do- have a baby for all of us to support. The environments in which they live condone this type of behavior. I know that teen pregnancy has gone down in our country and that's a good thing because poverty and crime rates are the hallmark of babies born in these situations. Nothing to celebrate and actually a bit of societal shaming could and would do a lot to further eliminate such tragedy. My first year of teaching, I had an 8th grader with two kids and she was supposedly on the pill, knew all about it and got pregnant on purpose both times. This is not a sex or birth control problem it's teaching kids to value themselves and to become individuals before bringing another helpless life into the world.

  25. The availability of contraceptives to teens and poor women is really variable depending on the state, the geographical setting, the living situation, etc. While I certainly knew many teen mothers who got pregnant intentionally in order to fill a social/emotional void, I also knew many who simply didn’t have the access they needed to sex education and birth control. There were no gynecologists in our town and no Planned Parenthoods in the whole state, so transportation was a challenge, especially if your parents were religious or poor. Some doctors wouldn’t prescribe birth control without a parent’s permission, and many parents wouldn’t give permission because it was against their religion or it was too much effort. Meanwhile, a poor woman without insurance is also going to have few accessible.

    And that was in a suburb of Charleston. If a girl living in a rural county wanted to access birth control, she’s out of luck. Access to doctors in general is an issue there, much less access to something like birth control. And I’d guess that in many rural regions you have the same issues with accessibility. Add to that the large gaps in sex education and areas with little to no high speed internet access, and you’ve got a recipe for unplanned pregnancies.

  26. "and this is the best they can do- have a baby for all of us to support"

    Your duty as a teacher is to teach the children that this perception is dangerously incorrect. Not to reinforce their motivations to self-harm.

  27. Procreation as a means to fulfill ones' existential despair is unconsciously solipsistic, at best, and all that it accomplishes to continue encouraging this sort of myopic behavior is an exponential rise in depraved misery.

    Our society purports to value the sanctity of life to such an extreme degree that women are subversively conditioned to believe that they must be ashamed for wanting their own choices. When young girls begin to enthusiastically embrace the choice to bring another life into the world, one cannot help but wonder if meaning is being sought in all the wrong places.

  28. A classic American tragedy of intellectual, moral and economic bankruptcy.

    Poverty, poor sex education, zero modern contraception, fashion, iPhones, no future prospects and religious ignorance and regressive right-wing public policy hovering the background that makes it all sustainable decade after decade.

    "Free" (publicly financed) IUDs AND LARCS for all of America's and the world's poor females would save millions and billions in welfare costs and make all of these lives lives much richer and rewarding than the grueling life of a teenage mom.

    But America's Dark Age religious stranglehold on common sense and social progress demands constant contraceptive ignorance and backwardness.

    Vote progressive, America....unless you love downward social spirals.

  29. I guess it is nice that these girls can get some minimal education before being tossed out into the Trumpian world of no healthcare, poor childcare, working exhausting long hours at two or three low paying jobs to pay for crummy or dangerous housing. And a prom, to make it seem glamorous. Children having children is not something to celebrate.

  30. It is disgraceful that this paper celebrate what is the greatest American tragedy in the past 50 years. There are few, if any, social problems (education, employment, drug use, the need for public assistance, et al) that don’t have their roots in the explosion of single parent families since the LBJ administration.

    I look forward to an expose in 20 years recounting how many of these unborn can’t read or write beyond a grade 8 level, are unable to get or hold down a job, have died from a drug overdose or spent time in prison for selling drugs or violent crime, or are living on the street or in government tenements. Of course, special mention should be made of those who have been gunned down in drive-by shootings. Also, let’s track the numbers of teen pregnancies who pass through the classroom of this “teacher”.

    This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion

  31. I have to agree. I'm not sure that there is any amount of governmental social engineering that can make-up the achievement gap between single-parent and two-parent families (I'm not even a traditionalist on this point - I don't care if the parents are both men, both women, or a man and a woman). It's not just an economic issue, although that's a big part of it. I'm sure there will be a chorus of people saying I had a single parent, and now I'm in medical school at Johns Hopkins, etc. Of course children from single families are and can be high-achieving. But on average, the erosion of the two-parent family has been devestating to the social progress of many groups. Again - I'm not religious, and this has nothing to do with any allegiance to the family values crowd. I just think having two parents is an advantage to a child, with a few exceptions.

  32. Quick with the hyperbole, but what would you have the school do? Do the girls not deserve an education? Would it be helpful to deny them opportunities to learn?

    I laugh when I hear people speak about the “good old days” when young people didn’t have sex before marriage, because they DID! The difference is, they were shamed for it...at least the women were shamed. My late great-aunt became pregnant before her wedding, and because she and her guy were from “respectable” families, the small community they were from kept their secret. I only found out a few years ago.

    Regressive social policies are not helpful in changing behavior or societal norms. Education is the key to success for these young women. So let’s make it possible by subsidizing child care, providing SNAP, and assisting them in finding jobs. Welfare is a short term solution for most families. I applaud the teacher for treating her students with compassion and helping them set goals.

  33. The issue of teen pregnancy aside, why is "Prom" so often elevated to some mythical status? It is a dance. Important, sure, it puts teens in an adult situation with dressup and the manners that are supposed to go with it - but it is not the all important passage it is hyped to be. It is disturbing to me how, in the Spring, there are all manner of such articles showing how various persons with challenges "rise above" with "Prom" inclusion. Sorry, I twice went, had a moderately nice evening, but it certainly didn't warrant the attention given it today.

  34. It's a rite of passage. Society has always had them for young women (and men). Quincineras, coming out balls, participating in wedding rituals with older sisters and cousins - prom is simply the modern American way of celebrating getting ready to go out in the world.

  35. The lack of critical thinking/reading skills on display in these judgmental comments is staggering. Consider the mission of the school, put yourself in the shoes of these young women and try to have a little more grace.

  36. What about the fathers? Stories like these that make child mothers the sole point of focus ignore the fact that there was a boy, or worse, a man involved - in some cases criminally. This story, while clearly well-intentioned, is horribly biased, placing the burden of parenthood exclusively on women, as if their situation as parents is somehow something for which they are solely responsible. The reporting here is uneven and, frankly, dangerous. It does damage to women by leaving men with the wrong message. Namely, that when a child becomes pregnant, no man or boy can or should be held responsible when, in fact, they must be if we are to be a civilized society. A prom dress does not absolve a man of his role as father and perhaps even child rapist. I wish these young mothers luck, and look forward to greater balance and respect for the full picture of parenthood and women’s reproductive lives in the NYT’s reporting going forward.

  37. While I agree that, ideally, men do take half of the responsibility of parenting their children, a fact of reality is that this is often not the case—especially for teenage pregnancies. It is really not implausible that the girls pictured are raising their children alone. It’s a story about them having a fun night in their prom dresses, and if absentee fathers are not available for interview, then they’re simply not part of the story.

  38. I talk about family planning, goals and the future all the time with my 18 and 15 year old kids and have since they were 12.

    Our children need to be selfish for their future and cognizant of their actions do they are in control.

    As a society we should do a lot more like make access to all forms of birth control including long term free for everyone

  39. I do believe that teenage parents also include fathers. Or are they simply assumed to be ignoring their parental responsbilities on non-prom nights? Is this an oversight or contemptuous low expectations?

  40. Well, the old way of driving these young women out of school as shameful examples never really worked. When I worked in a school we saw girls who'd gotten pregnant after their first experience being treated like that while another who'd had more scrapes than a skateboarder's knee get to walk across the stage with honor cords.
    And the male equivalent? Forget it.
    What a school like this does is to keep these girls in the educational track, keep them in an environment where they're aware of more educational opportunities beyond high school. Time will tell if it works better than the old way--it can hardly do worse.

  41. Many comments here criticize the article for celebrating teen pregnancy. Read the article as simple reporting. Could you have traveled to this school and solicited the (admittedly immature) insights of these young women? No. But now you have them. And that's the point.

  42. "When you find yourself wondering what freedom actually is, that means it's already gone."

    It was good while it lasted.

  43. Stop glamourizing teen pregnancy. Like the cheesy, reality shows where those who are pregnant become pseudo-celebrities.
    There is nothing to be celebrating here. Another young woman's life, career and other social aspects are now forever gone.

  44. "Forever gone" is a gloomy, inaccurate assumption. If young parents are supported, such as they do in this school, given opportunities, and not subjected to the critical, negative bias and stigma that is so common against teen parents ( as demonstrated by the comments about this article) they can thrive and even find a long, fruitful career once their kids are school age. While the cycle of poverty that can entrap teens who become parents is real, it is not inevitable. Why don't we check back in with these teens in 20 years to see how the support they received at this time in their life led to their future success? And lets not doom them to failure by our own false assumptions about what they want, need and should be doing.

  45. This is yet another misstep by well-meaning liberals. We have a social responsibility to educate and help these teens, who are too young to understand what they are doing. According to this article it seems these kids actually wanted to have babies. These teens have no idea of the consequences of their decisions. It's an enormous strain in our social services, which are already under attack by conservatives, and this kind of thing only further fuels their attacks. Tolerance in a vacuum has created a populist backlash in this country. This is one reason why we have Trump. And this article will be further proof in Trump voting circles that poor people (especially minorities, illegal immigrants) are taking advantage of taxpayers and America's social services. I'm not saying they're correct. I'm just reading the writing on the wall.

  46. I consider my self a liberal and do Not condone teen pregnancy in any way.

    Once they've had one child they usually have more. This is a break down of our society in which studies have shown that a child benefits from being raised in a two parent home.
    I realize all the arguments of it's better to have a single caring mother than to live in a home of arguing and any form of abuse. all of these are negatives that need to be addressed.

    Teens need to be talked to about the responsibility of raising a child. It's not a cake walk. Talk to those single mothers and see how it has changed their lives . Maury had a program around 1995 interviewing mothers and every one advised to not get pregnant as it only last initially that friends want to be around a baby. One girl said no one wants to go to the mall with you now!
    I believe in not providing financial assistance to more than one child. Let the parents support these kids. That was a fact that many of my generation knew would be a fact in not getting pregnant.

  47. A majority of the comments on this article are critical in a myriad of ways, and I think people are missing the point. These mothers deserve a wonderful prom night while juggling lives as both students and parents. The fact that seeing a pregnant, young, possibly poor young woman disturbs readers so much is a real issue that should be addressed. The need to criticize and control the reproductive rights of those girls shows a deep bias towards a certain demographic of females. Props to this school for overcoming those biases and giving these girls an elegant night!

  48. yes!

  49. To those who think some of the comments are critical: I don't think anyone here misses the point. No one is disputing that these teens (both boys AND girls) should be denied prom. No one is disputing the good work that community programs do. But the fact that these teens "deserve" a special night is directly related to the fact that they are, in fact, teens who had babies (some multiple) by age 18. This is not simply an article about teens and prom. It's also about the consequences of teen pregnancy.

    NYT readers will always advance the discussion of issues. We should applaud and respect that.

    Furthermore, I think these comments you feel are too critical reflect what we liberals have been unwilling to address: reality. The unwillingness on our (the left) part to examine this and other the sociopolitical issue from ALL aspects -- which includes social, humanistic, political and societal -- is a failure that is helping end democratic government. We on the left need to try to balance our passionate / compassionate ideals with cognitive empathy and some common sense.

  50. As many (if not all) adults who have had kids know, raising kids is not an easy task in any way, but one that can bring joy, fulfillment and purpose to one’s life. What I don’t understand is why so many want to make a difficult job even more difficult, especially for those most likely to struggle with having the resources to do it (time, money). It’s hard to think of anything more important to a society than raising children to be contributors to society in the future. Why do we want to endanger that by punishing girls/women/families who have children under the “wrong” circumstances? The horse is already out of the barn. We can still encourage waiting until the “right” time and circumstances present themselves (although these days that may never happen for some people), but not by shaming the mothers (it is the moms who bear most of this) and ultimately punishing the children, to the detriment of our society.

  51. NYTimes, when you mention a 17 year old has a 3 year old, a logical follow up would be why did she get pregnant at 14? I’m not passing judgement on anyone and these girls deserve their prom experience but that’s part of the story and as is how are they intending to take care of these children.

  52. So many of these comments are something to the effect of "HOW DARE they be happy for even just a moment!" If you think an article like this "normalizes" teen pregnancy, and that that in turn would cause an increase in teen pregnancies, you're extremely out of touch. Teen pregnancy and premarital sex are tending downward - let the kids enjoy ONE NIGHT for crying out loud. You can get back on your high horse later.

  53. It's sad that The New York Times runs a story about the Prom, focusing on teenagers, who are either pregnant, or in most cases have children already! When at the same time, I've read articles in The New York Times, these past few years, indicating that teen pregnancy has been down these past several years! There's almost a glorification element here! Not my uncle's New York Times anymore!!!

  54. Happily teenage pregnancies are down but the reality for these young people is parenthood. They are very courageous to decide to raise their children when other options are available and sometimes encouraged.
    The NYT is reporting on their reality. Nice story.

  55. I doubt that these kids’ reality looks remotely appealing to most high school students!

  56. I think that the girl who is saying it's not as hard as people think is delusional. Sure when you are living at home 100% financially supported by your parents and have free schooling and free daycare well... must be a cake walk. But that is rarely the reality of teenage parents and I hope she doesn't take it for granted right now. Once you graduate the real world comes at you fast...

  57. I read her comment as denial, with a dose of bravado thrown in. Kids who have been hurt put up walls, and it’s much easier to act like you’ve got it all together than to acknowledge the reality of your situation.

  58. I'm glad that the young women are in a program that will hopefully (*fingers crossed*) set them on a path to self-sufficiency and happiness in their lives. I hope their prom gave them an emotional 'boost'. But the main thing I feel? Frustration and sadness at how these girls have put up hurdles between their children & themselves and success.

    As a Democrat, I firmly believe that no one should go hungry or homeless or without strong family bonds, I just can't help but be depressed when thinking about babies being born with additional 'risk factors' on top of the challenges they'd have faced had their mothers been several years older.

    *sigh*

  59. Everyone deserves their day in the sun! Proms probably mean more to girls than boys anyway. You are only a teen once so this rite of passage is memorable and important. And, as this school seems to realize, by supporting these young girls they are more likely to be responsible adult parents with self esteem! Society benefits from that!

  60. Bravo to the schools that are including girls who are or are about to be mothers at the proms. It shouldn't matter what your students' or classmates' circumstances might be they're still your students and classmates and you should everything you can to support them. To the kids the prom is a big event that they'll likely remember for the whole lives and to short change them is the wrong thing to do, although for the teachers, administrators, and school board members who oversee these affairs it's just another day at the prom

    As for those administrations and school boards who bar already or about to be mothers from the proms my advice is to think again. It's likely you helped precipitate the pregnancy to begin with by teaching abstinence only sex education instead of science based sex education that teaches the kids about where babies come from, how they get there, what young people can do to avoid pregnancy and disease beyond abstinence.

  61. I wonder if the comments would be different if the piece displayed more of the teen fathers . . . or just the teen fathers. Not a single comment included from a father.