OLIVIA sees her ex-boyfriend, her baby's dad, in the streets where she lives, often down some side path or alley, usually drinking alcohol, always with the crowd they used to hang out in together before she became pregnant at 15 and cut ties with that group and that lifestyle.
She says she catches sight of him from the corner of an eye and: "I just go past with the pram." She mimes a nonchalant flick of hair over her right shoulder and pushing a buggy, strutting, proud.
Olivia is one of a group of teenage mums I met at Glasgow's Young Parent's Support Base in Smithycroft Secondary School. Her confidence is not faked but hard won.
It's taken time and work from the intensive support given at the base for Olivia and her peers to be comfortable with being schoolgirl mothers. Without it, Olivia said she'd rarely go out with her toddler daughter, for shame. Instead, the girl who was involved in anti-social behaviour and had a 33% attendance rate is now a high-achieving pupil en route to college – just like the other 80 or so young mums helped by the base since it began three years ago.
And it's not an isolated example. Studies in England have shown exactly the same: teenage pregnancy is one consequence of lack of academic aspiration and yet teenage pregnancy is a spur to academic aspiration. With proper support, teenage pregnancies raise attainment. The girls feel they have an example to set – to their children and to the wider community who draw misguided conclusions.
What do they think we think about teenage mums? Promiscuous, disengaged with society, eager for benefits, "on the buroo and after a house" as they put it. As one, they are determined to overturn the stereotype of the scrounging young harlot, flicking two fingers at morality and raising baby hoodlums who will begin the cycle over again. Instead, they are resourceful, purposeful, bluntly honest and resilient. That, and possessed of a youthful good humour allowing them to shrug off whispers overheard in shops, roll their eyes at ignorant bus drivers and turn their back on feckless ex-boyfriends.
It's the feckless ex-boyfriends who stuck most in my mind after visiting Smithycroft. While support is on offer to young dads, it's not as often taken up. The girls are forced by biology to grow up and take responsibility for themselves and their babies but the boys can choose not to. By having their babies, some of these girls will be making reasonable, considered decisions about what they value and what they have chosen to do with their lives. When their alternative options are considered it's even a moral choice. But Olivia's ex-boyfriend, down an alleyway with no prospects but a bottle... what of him? Teenage dads can get off scot-free if they choose to ("I was an outcast at school and he got a high five") but they're missing the benefits uncovered by the mums. While there's no way a teenage pregnancy would be recommended, for the girls, with the right support, it's life-changing, not life-ending. For the boys, it's barely a bump in the path. "I have a child and qualifications and a future," the girls say, "and he's got nothing." Shame, then, these young boys can't be persuaded to see that equal responsibility could bring equal opportunities.
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