Helping pregnant teens via technology

Imagine you’re a 16-year-old girl and you think you’re pregnant. You haven’t told anyone, except your boyfriend who does not accept responsibility. You believe that your parents will beat you and kick you out the house if they find out. You haven’t been to the clinic for a test, because you live in a small town and you know the nurses at the clinic. And you know that the nurses will judge and shout at you, perhaps refuse to treat you, and because they know your mother, they might tell her.

You know you need to start making decisions but you don’t know where to start. Everybody has always told you that an unplanned pregnancy means the end of your life. You don’t know enough about abortion or adoption and you can’t see how you can possibly raise a child alone. And so you sit alone, paralysed by panic and confusion, as the weeks go by and your options dwindle.

All alone

Alone. This is the word that keeps coming up. Who are you going to talk to? Speaking out and asking for help is risky – you never know how people are going to react, even those whose job it is to care about you or provide treatment and advice.

Imagine you’re a teen mom, past the initial drama of an unplanned pregnancy but now you’re dealing with managing your schooling and raising your child. You’re the butt of jokes and gossip at school and in your community – even at home. You worry about your child growing up without her father, but he has not been interested. You consider leaving school to find work but you know how important education is and don’t want to give it up. You are as stressed as any new mom of any age, with added complications. You want to do your best for baby but you’re depressed and feel hopeless. If you speak out at home or ask for help, you are told that you should have thought of this before you opened your legs. Where to from here?

Supporting young moms

Young Mom Support has been running a support group for young moms in Masiphumelele since 2010. We realised that we were not reaching the younger teen moms or pregnant teens – they were too shy to come forward and join us, even though we knew they were out there.

In March 2013 we launched the Young Mom Support app on MXit. The app is accessible for free and is similar to a mini website within MXit, providing subscribers with information on pregnancy, adoption, abortion and managing schooling and pregnancy. They can also access live private chat sessions each evening, to ask questions anonymously and receive advice and support in real time.

Using technology already familiar and accessible means that we’re able to reach those young teens who we were missing before. The anonymity allows for more openness and honesty than they’d feel comfortable with in a traditional counselling setting or even on an internet forum where anyone can contribute.

In the month since we’ve launched, we now have over 15000 subscribers and have spoken to hundreds of young people on topics such as symptoms of pregnancy, how to tell your parents you’re pregnant, options such as adoption or abortion, where to go to access professional counselling and other service providers, how to manage school and parenting, relationship issues and many more.

In most cases, what our users need is a little bit of information about where to go from here, as well as encouragement and reminding her that no matter what she chooses, her life is not over and she will be okay, if she stands up and takes charge today.

Many have become friends and continue to come back every day for updates on how things are going.  Often, they come back to say “Thank you for helping me to see things differently”

When you’re alone and scared, you need someone to listen, to help you make sense of your confused thoughts and put you on the right track. A shot of common sense and compassion to jolt you out of your paralysis and get you moving.

It’s working.

Slowly but surely, pregnant teens who’d otherwise still be sitting at home alone with no plan are on their way to making better choices, and better lives for themselves.

To access the app on MXit:

Go to Tradepost --> Reach --> Community --> Young Mom Support


Add youngmomsupport as a contact

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