The Candie’s Foundation’s Recipe for Failure: Lack of Understanding the Adolescent Decision Making Process—Ali Puckett
“Pause, before you play,” urges Bristol Palin in the latest video advertisement from the Candie’s Foundation, a program created to educate youth about the “devastating consequences of teen pregnancy (1).” Palin is the most recent celebrity to grace the video and print campaigns for the foundation. From former teen idol Hilary Duff to Jenny McCarthy, Ciara and the band Fall Out Boy, the Candie’s Foundation has tried to appeal to youth by enlisting the faces of recognizable celebrities to lend a hand with their message of abstinence. Palin is the first celebrity spokesperson to actually be a teen parent in the foundation’s 9 year history (1). The juxtaposed images of Palin getting her makeup done for a graduation photo shoot with her infant son with her asking questions viewers as to what would happen if she didn’t have the support of her family, while the background and her clothes fade from a land of excess with a Palin dressed in a Channel suit to a t-shirt and jeans in an empty apartment, meant to signify the bleak and depressing world of being a teen mom.
So what’s the problem with the way the Candie’s Foundation is portraying teen parenthood? Aside from Palin’s video ad, every other video ad on the Candie’s Foundation website features a teen couple about to engage in sexual activity or thinking/reminiscing about it (1). Palin’s ad features her son, Tripp, a consequence of her having sex as a teen. In each ad, the act of sex is always interrupted by a celebrity, a bed turning into a crib or a car turning into a stroller. The tag line of “not what you expected for your first set of wheels/crib, huh?” are uttered by the celebrity, followed by “pause, before you play,” “sex can change everything,” or “welcome to reality.” There is never any discussion about contraceptive methods, it is just assumed that if you have sex you will get pregnant or get someone pregnant. Better yet, not only will you become a teen parent, you will become a single-teen parent. It is unrealistic to expect that a teenager will not engage in sexual activity until they are married or in an emotional, financial and mental position to parent.
Teenage Brain Development
The goal of the Candie’s Foundation campaign, to end teen pregnancy in the United States through abstinence, is not realistic for teenagers to adhere to, nor is the message relatable to all of the teenage population for multiple reasons. First, when teenagers make potentially life-changing decisions celebrities don’t appear just in the nick of time to sway their decisions. Being able to make their own decisions and learn about the consequences of those decisions in both the short and long-term are part of normal adolescent development (3).
In understanding the psychological development of the adolescent brain, we must first understand that the regions where emotional development and perception to risk and reward are located undergo tremendous change during this time (3). These changes can lead to thrill seeking behaviors in order to get the “high” sensation from their newly formed risk and reward preceptors (3). The second thing to note is that while adolescents are beginning to experience changes in arousal and motivation, changing from not being interested in the opposite or same sex to now being more than interested in anything else, they do not have the developmental ability to regulate when they become aroused or motivated by this arousal (3). Adolescents want to test the limits of their newly developing bodies and emotions, even when they don’t know what is going to happen or how they are going to react to the given situation in which they find themselves.
Teenage Pregnancy Statistics
In their print advertisements, The Candie’s Foundation gives more information about the effects of teen pregnancy both financially and socially. Palin’s print ad states that “more than 750,000 teenage girls will become pregnant this year (1).” There is no way of knowing where The Candie’s Foundation came up with this number as it is not referenced in print. The closest data I could find from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was that in 2006 there were 435,436 live births to teenage mothers aged 15 to 19 (4). If more than 750,000 teenage girls were to become pregnant this year, based off of the data from the 2006 live birth data of teenage mothers, it would mean that at least 314,564 births would end in either spontaneous termination or abortion. This would account for 42% abortion or spontaneous termination amongst all pregnant teenagers, which, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is accurate (5).
Through their recently published research on teen pregnancy from 1972 to 2006, the Guttmacher Institute states that in 2006 the number of pregnant teenage girls aged 15 to 17 was 246,250 and 18 to 19 was 496,730 for a total of 742,980 pregnancies (5). They found there to be 200,240 miscarriages or abortions amongst 18 and 19 year-olds and 107,310 amongst 15 to 17 year olds, for a total of 307,550 terminated teen pregnancies in 2006 (5). This means 41.3% of all pregnancies to teenage girls aged 15 to 19 were terminated in 2006. While it is possible that more than 750,000 teenage girls will become pregnant in 2010, not all of them will give birth.
Teenage Sexual Activity
The Candie’s Foundation’s not so hidden message is that of abstinence. While it is irresponsible of the foundation to overlook mentioning contraceptives in their advertisements and state through visual claims that every time you have sex as a teenager you will get pregnant, they may already be trying to persuade a non-sexually active audience. According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS), they most recent year data is available, the percentage of teenagers that have ever had sex has decreased significantly since 1991 from 53% to 47.8%, respectively (2). The percentage of teenagers that used condoms during their last sexual encounter has also risen dramatically from 46.2 to 61.5 over the same period. This means that teenagers are becoming sexually active later in their lives and, when they do have sex, they are more likely to use condoms. The number of currently sexually active teens has also decreased slightly from 37.9% in 1995 to 35% in 2007 (2). If you look at the breakdown by ethnicity, the numbers change significantly.
In 2002, condom use for white, black and Hispanic teens was fairly high at 60, 67 and 61%, respectively (6). However, the numbers for oral contraceptive (OCP) use and sexual activity show the gaps in access and culturally normalized behaviors between the ethnicities. For example, OCP use amongst white teens was 21% in 2002, and only 9% amongst black and Hispanic teens (6). There is a known misconception throughout these communities that they do not believe that the pill is effective or that it has horrific side effects such as growing a third breast (7). African American teens tend to believe that birth control is a form of Eugenics and that it is culturally normalized and often supported, to become a teen parent (7). When culture supports a behavior, it is difficult for any intervention to work.
Aside from the statistic of how many teenage girls are estimated to get pregnant this year, the posters in the print campaign also mention the expense it costs to raise a child each year, loss of sleep due to feeding a newborn and not being able to move out of your parents’ house. While these facts are slightly more tangible for a teenager to grasp, they are still abstract. A troubled 15 year old might be glad he/she wasn’t kicked out of their parents’ house/residence, so not being able to move out isn’t an issue. These facts play to an already socioeconomically stable teenagers worst nightmares (no car, no time for friends) and do nothing for those teens who are most vulnerable and can’t relate to that type of privilege.
Group Marketing vs. Individual Problem
Aside from expecting teens to be able to fully comprehend the consequences of their sexual actions and expecting them to abstain from sex until the Candie’s Foundation deems them ready, the campaign also misses a major mark in the way it is delivering its message. The Candie’s Foundation is trying to reach a group, the entire teen population of the United States, by marketing to the individual. Marketing theory, a group level theory, recognizes that groups are more than just individuals (8). However, individuals do not want to feel left out or be socially irrelevant so they can be easily pressured into making the same change as the group.
Candie’s is trying an opposite approach by trying to get individuals to change the group. This is very close to advertising theory in that it isn’t trying to sell anything, but rather it is appealing to core values of the individual, and promising a different lifestyle (9). The core values of the campaign are staying a teen, enjoying life, being care-free, not having to be responsible for someone else. The promise is that the only way to not become a teen parent is to not engage in any form of sexual activity as a teenager—if you “pause before you play” you will be able to stay a teen, save money and be an independent and functioning member of society.
This doesn’t work for cultures where the only way you become independent of your family or get to move out is to become a parent. It also doesn’t work for cultures where it is normal and almost expected for you to have at least one child before the age of 20. Once again, this campaign, while attempting to be diverse with the likes of Ciara and Vanessa Minnillo as celebrity spokes people, is really just targeted towards middle class white teens who don’t want to give up their white-middle-class privilege. More cultural research should have been done before the advertisements were made, and a range of diversity in spokespeople may have also made the ads more effective. Even Bristol Palin, the only teen parent to appear in the campaign to date isn’t the best spokesperson as she comes from a background of privilege and was able to complete school with the help of her family.
“Pause, before you play” in order not to get pregnant or get someone pregnant doesn’t work with all teens. Not all teens are strictly heterosexual. Currently, the national YRBS does not ask about sexuality (2). A few states have attempted to add a question about sexuality into their state YRBS with mixed results (2). The best estimate for how many sexual minority teens there are out there is to compare it to what we know about adults. Ever since Alfred Kinsey’s research on sexuality was published in 1953, there has been a great misconception about the percentage of the population that is homosexual (10). The 10% of the population that Kinsey found were those who had ever had any time of sexual contact with someone of the same sex (10). Research done by Laumann and Gagnon in 1994 found that number to be closer to 3% of the population (10).
If 3% of the teenage population is strictly homosexual and another unknown percentage is bisexual, The Candie’s Foundation is missing out on a large number of teens by only focusing on heterosexual teens. However, heterosexual teens aren’t the only group of teens that can get or get someone pregnant. Due to, among other variables, gender policing in schools, sexual minority teens try to prove their heterosexuality by intentionally getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant (7). What better way to prove you aren’t gay or lesbian than to become a parent? If the “pause, before you play” campaign would take this into account and mention other repercussions of unprotected sex, such as STIs, they could reach even more vulnerable teenagers. Since it is still illegal for same-sex couples to get married in nearly every state in the union, it isn’t possible for gay and lesbian youth to wait until marriage to have sex.
A New Approach
While I focused on the three main flaws I found in critiquing The Candie’s Foundation’s “pause, before you play,” campaign, there are a few components the current campaign has that could be used in new and better approach. The most important thing to remember in designing a new approach is to try and not glamorize teen pregnancy. Using Bristol Palin as an example of what it’s like to be a teen mom was a start, but the foundation could do much better.
Since adolescents have a sense of invincibility and don’t think anything bad could ever happen to them or that they could get pregnant from having unprotected sex (just watch MTV’s “16 and Pregnant”) the new intervention must be able to prove otherwise (3). I feel it is important to show stories of teenagers and young adults from across cultures, but not to the extent of the United Colors of Benetton, that represent the consequences of not using contraception or what teens were able to achieve when they did protect themselves. It is important to show that not every teen that has sex gets pregnant or an STI, but it is even more important to show that those people used contraception.
Considering that part of the promise The Candie’s Foundation made to its audience in its “pause, before you play” campaign was being able to achieve one’s goals and become independent, the real teens and young adults I propose the foundation use in its new campaign should discuss how they didn’t let sex get in the way of their lives. I feel there should be at least 3 ad series. The first series should feature three ads: one with a couple, one with only a female and one with only a male. One ad can have the teen, or couple discuss, how they plan on staying abstinent until they’re personally ready. Another ad can have the teen, or couple discuss, how they feel communication is important to a relationship, especially when you bring sex into. The third ad can have the teen, or couple, talk about contraception and the effectiveness of condoms and OCP.
The second series should feature the repercussions of being a teen parent or being raised by a teen parent. If The Candie’s Foundation would like to continue using celebrities in their campaign, Justin Bieber would be perfect for this series. The current music scene “it” boy was raised by his single-teenaged mother in Canada (11). She gave birth to Bieber at age 18 and had to work many low-paying jobs to support him (11). Bieber would be able to attest to how difficult being raised by a single-teenage parent can be, and since he is so popular with tweens, teens and young adults, he may be the perfect celebrity spokesperson (11).
While Justin Bieber would be the celebrity component to the teen parent series, it is also important to have real-life teen parents in the campaign. Since the age of consent in the United States is at least 16 in each state, it is imperative that the real teens are older than 16 or else they are technically discussing a crime (12). Just like with the previous series, this campaign should also feature at least three ads. With Bieber’s ad being one, the other two should focus on the difficulties of balancing being a teenager with parenthood, trying to co-parent and the expense of raising a child. Let it be known that I am not suggesting that these teens be depressed and wish they had never had sex to begin with. It is important to show what teen parenting is like and if these teens find it to be a wonderful thing, so be it. Unlike the previous Candie’s Foundation campaign, the new campaign isn’t trying to use scare tactics to keep teenagers from having sex. It is simply trying to give the facts without being judgmental or trying to persuade them to stay abstinent.
For the third ad series, it is important to focus on sexual minority adolescents. While having advertisements with sexual minority teens discussing how waiting until marriage isn’t currently an option for them might be a big political move for The Candie’s Foundation, it is also a necessary move. This section of the population is often marginalized and really not seen in advertisements, especially in youth advertisements. By including sexual minority teens in these advertisements, the company would no longer be blatantly stigmatizing homosexuality, especially amongst teenagers. This series will be the most controversial and might have trouble airing on some of the more conservative networks. As long as the advertisements are available online, they can reach their target audience.
This series should feature a gay couple, a lesbian couple and two bisexuals, not necessarily in a couple. Depending on the couple, the teens can discuss similar issues previous series discussed, but it is important for them to also mention how they are discriminated for who they chose to sleep with not only in age of consent laws but in other sexual laws as well. It is imperative that these couples mention condom or dental dam usage.
While advertisements can reach a wide audience quickly, they can’t convey all the necessary information in their allotted 30 seconds. Due to this, The Candie’s Foundation should also set up a community-based sexual health education program. This proposed program should start before adolescents start engaging in sexual activity at around age 11 or 12. The program should be multi-year and follow youth throughout their high school experience. It should incorporate education with a sense of pride in the community, be it through a tutoring program, community garden or park building project.
There is plenty of research out there about how to help and deliver interventions to stop teens from becoming parents or to delay the start of sexual activity (13). Advocates for Youth analyzed over 30 programs, both school and community based to find out what worked and what didn’t (13). They found that co-ed programs for vulnerable adolescents that started before entrance to high school that involved the youth in the community in some way had the best success rates (13).
In order for this new community-based program to work, The Candie’s Foundation must do proper research on the community in which it plans to focus this education. Aside from first picking the community, there are important pieces of information that are needed before the program and its curriculum can be designed. Key facts to know are: the pregnancy and birth rate, the age at which teens start becoming sexually active, do the teens we want in this program have siblings who are teen parents?, is a program such as this culturally insensitive?, which aspects of the community do the teens wish to become involved with?, are their other factors that make being a teen parent or having sex at an earlier age safer than not?
From here, finding out how many teens and families want to become involved would be the next logical step. If a community is only going to have a few willing participants, should the intervention be moved elsewhere or should it continue to be re-designed until the community accepts it? This all depends on how vulnerable the teens in the community are to becoming teen parents and if it is culturally seen as a problem. If the community doesn’t want the intervention, it is best to find one that does.
Once the pilot community(ies) has/have been established, the program can start developing curricula to target the needs of each community. Taking a program that worked in Philadelphia and applying it to a small farming town in Idaho isn’t necessarily going to have the same results. It is important to tailor each program to the needs of its specific community. However, all programs should contain a similar structure. If an adolescent starts the program at age 11 and continues on to age 18, there needs to be something that keeps him/her wanting to return each year. Each year, students should have more and more responsibility. They should be teamed up with a mentor, ideally someone a few grades older than them, who will help to guide them through the program. This mentor will help them to make responsible life decisions, from remembering to do their homework to saying no to drugs. That mentor, in turn, will also have a mentor to help them. The oldest students will have the program coordinators and supervisors as their mentors.
The educational component of this program will not simply be about sexual health. While highly important, focusing on other aspects of a teenager’s life has proven to be more effective than sexual education alone (13). The program will provide information on all aspects of health, from dental hygiene to sexual health at an age appropriate level. It will also provide training and guidance as to what careers a participant might want to go into after they graduate high school. Guest speakers from the community will come in to discuss what they do and how they were able to get that job, be it through education or training. This will show participants that there is more out there in life after high school or even middle school and give them something to look forward to.
Having a field trip to a community college for older students, or having college students come into talk to the whole program are also excellent ways of showing teens what they too can have an easier time doing if they don’t start parenting at a young age. By giving teens a glimpse at what their life could be life if they remember to use contraceptives every time they have sex or even just to wait until they’re actually emotionally and mentally ready to have sex, the rates of condom use at last sexual experience will go up, and the rate of teen pregnancy will go down (13).
The new approaches to the teen pregnancy intervention The Candie’s Foundation currently employs is nothing groundbreaking. This information is out there and readily available. Researchers know what it takes to create an intervention to lower teen pregnancy, but for some reason funding never seems to give these types of programs a chance (13). If The Candie’s Foundation truly wants to educate youth about the “devastating consequences of teen pregnancy (1),” they’ll need to do a whole lot more than have a series of confusing television advertisements and a print campaign that only targets a certain type of teenager.
The new approaches proposed in this paper could be quite beneficial to not only vulnerable teenage populations, but they could also help to make The Candie’s Foundation a trusted household name. If The Candie’s Foundation wants teens to change their behaviors, the foundation will first have to change the way it advertises to them. They must do a better job of getting to know their audience and getting relatable spokespeople for their advertisement campaigns. Having Bristol Palin as their teen ambassador is a move in the right direction. If they could only get their clothing to reflect their sexual beliefs for teens, they might be able to alleviate some cognitive dissonance and create more credibility.
1. The Candie’s Foundation. About us. New York City, New York. The Candie’s
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5. Guttermacher Institute. U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity. Washington, D.C. Guttermacher Institute, 2010.
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13. Advocates for Youth. Science and Success: Sex Education and Other Programs that Work Teen Pregnancy, HIV, and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Washington, D.C. Advocates for Youth, 2008.