It’s something you hope never happens. Your son, too young, too inexperienced, too unprepared, becomes a father. What now?
A report from the Guttmacher Institute shows a pregnancy rate of 7% among teens for 2006. While attention has focused on teen mothers, there are few resources for the teen dad. Yet, Prudence Brown of the Ford Foundation notes that many teen fathers want to participate in the parenting of their children but “they need a lot of help and support to help them assume a responsible father role.”
How do boys get that support, become responsible for another life and deal with this new relationship with the baby’s mother?
The Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Project in San Francisco has found that teenage fathers usually have lower incomes, less education and more children than do men who wait until age 20 to have children. They often remain poor because they drop out of school to work, solving an immediate need (income) but locking in a long-term difficulty (lack of education and limited job skills).
Parenthood is an equal opportunity prospect. It is provided to the prepared and unprepared alike, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uninformed. Our value as parents is what we make of the opportunity.
It is fair to say that a teen boy who becomes a father is unprepared. Caught between adolescence and adulthood, he falls into a bigger role than he has ever experienced. Or he runs irresponsibly from the challenge.
Rights and Responsibilities
It is our feeling that babies should be born to parents who are mature and effectively prepared. But if that is not the case, we still believe the teen father has a responsibility to care for that child, be a part of the baby’s life, and participate in important decisions.
A few things for the teen dad to keep in mind:
- Sort out issues through honest dialogue with the baby’s mother.
- Be certain you are the father.
- Be aware of custody or visitation rights.
- Get the legal, medical or spiritual help you need.
You can be a partner for a few moments; you’re a parent for the rest of your life. There may be few family or community role models. Television shows too often reflect what has been called a universal television network allergy to responsible dads. But teens need to find behaviors they can model. The public library or local church are good places to start. Programs such as Teen Fathers (http://www.gbapp.org) offer a chance for boys to share feelings, build skills, serve as role models to each other, deepen the relationship with the child’s mother and find resources for improving fathering skills and continuing an education.
If you are a father of a teen who is now a dad, you can support your son with love and help him find resources to improve his parenting skills. Dad, you can encourage your son to be a full partner in raising his child.