Teenage birth rates in the United States have been falling consistently over the last 20 years, however the U.S. still has one of the highest rates of teenage birth among all developed countries. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2012, there were 29.4 births for every 1,000 females ages 15-19. This resulted in 305,420 babies. Much of the decline in these birth rates can be attributed to the incredible amount of resources that have been devoted to supporting and educating teenage mothers. As an internet age sample of this, a quick Google search for “teenage mother help” immediately brings up pages and pages of genuinely helpful resources for young moms. Educating teenage girls to avoid pregnancy in the first place and then helping them support their children after that has failed has been the United States’ approach to reducing teenage pregnancy.
Teenage fathers, however, have more or less been ignored. I challenge you to easily find statistics about the number of teenage fathers each year in the United States. Google “teenage father help” and you will find exactly zero helpful resources. Sure, you can find articles on the importance of getting a paternity test or that teenage fathers are responsible for child support. Oh yeah, and it’s good for teenage fathers to not abandon the mothers of their child. And maybe you should finish school. And get a job, because babies are expensive.
What you will not find are resources geared towards teenage males that will inspire confidence in their abilities to be dads. You won’t find educational materials that they can understand about what it means to be a father in your teens and have to juggle school ,work, disapproving parents and friends, AND this new thing that cries and poops. You won’t find classes that encourage teenage dads to participate in the care of their child.
This is sad, because of the limited amount of research out there about teenage fathers, it is clear that having a loving and involved father contributes significantly to the health and well-being of the child. It also benefits the father. When polled, most teenage dads want to be part of their child’s life. However, their involvement is often curtailed by numerous obstacles: not sharing a home with the mother, mother’s or grandparents’ disapproval, socio-economic status and the failure of support people, including health care professionals, to encourage his participation.
Moreover, precious little effort has been spent to engage teenage males in avoiding pregnancy. Males are definitely considered the problem in this scenario. The mantra of “He got her pregnant,” not “They made a baby” is a destructive construct that paints males as hormone driven sexual predators and females as innocent prey. Youth is an excuse for being unknowledgeable. It is not an excuse for being irresponsible. If we do a better job of educating our young males about how to avoid pregnancy, we can see that birth rate fall even lower.
Now, if you’ve read this far, you may be wondering how I handle these issues in my practice. And I’ll be honest with you, I could be better. I discuss condoms and birth control with all my teenage boys and girls and try to drive home their importance and also their failure rates. With my teenage moms, I try to assess their support structures, including the involvement of the father. And educate, educate, educate. But, I don’t encourage teenage dads to be there for their kids the way I should. This is something I’m going to change in my practice, starting today. And I put this challenge out there to anyone reading this. If you know a teenage father – no matter what your relationship, no matter his situation – give him encouragement. Let him know that he can be a great dad. And he can raise a great kid.