There’s a lot of things I want for my kids as they grow into adulthood. Aside from health and happiness, I want them to grow into thoughtful, caring individuals with strong principles and self-confidence. Among the many things I don’t want for them, becoming teenage parents is pretty high on the list.

Teenage Parents Deserve A Chance.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that teenage parents should be given a chance. The recent story of the 14 and 15 year old couple who became parents recently broke my heart. The fact that they are young was not, in my mind, a good enough reason to try to separate them from their child. That they took off with their newborn was not surprising.

What was surprising was the apparent lack of support for such young parents in the first place. Why were there no plans in place to support and keep them with their baby? Suitable accommodation, social workers- whatever was needed.

Teenage Parents- A Trend?

In the same week as this story, I saw an article in the Daily Telegraph about a 16 year old girl, pregnant with her second child. In the article, the NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, was warning against the “trend” of teenage pregnancy. However, statistics show that the overall number of teen pregnancies has fallen. In Australia, the ABS reported last November that the teenage fertility rate had dropped to the lowest on record.

“…in 2015, births to mothers aged 19 years and under continued to decline both in number (8,574) and proportion of all births (2.8 per cent).”- Australian Bureau of Statistics.

If it’s a new trend, I hope it doesn’t catch on.teen parents- children are nice but they are hard work

Teenage Parents Doesn’t Equal Bad Parents.

I don’t know many people who became parents as teens but I know of quite a few who’ve managed, despite the adversity they’ve faced, to do a really good job. Others who haven’t, as well.  

If any of our children was facing parenthood, I’d respect their choice if they wanted to continue the pregnancy and help as much as possible. Some risk factors, though, would be beyond my control. 

It’s Too Risky.

Teenagers who get pregnant are more likely to experience complications both during pregnancy and birth. The physical toll on a woman’s body from carrying and birthing a child can be enormous; the idea of a teen being exposed to that is horrifying to me as a parent. Add to that, babies born to teen mums are at higher risk of premature birth and other complications like low birth weight.

There’s also evidence to suggest that the children of teen parents are more likely to have poor outcomes in life, including a higher chance of becoming teenage parents themselves. The simple fact is that becoming a parent as a teen is bloody hard and not all teenage parents are equipped or supported well enough to manage it.

With my youngest being only four, I remember the physical and emotional cost of having a baby. I might be 35, but I also remember what it was like to ride the roller coaster of teenage emotion and frankly, I don’t want my kids to experience that level of stress.

Young mums are more likely to experience things like Post Natal Depression. Having a new baby can be isolating and stressful when you’re fully grown, well supported and financially independent. Being young, financially unstable, going through pregnancy, birth and possibly having an unwell baby- the strain must be enormous.

Limitations.

We have three kids in the throes of teenagerdom and you know what? I think all of them would probably cope with the stress and strain of having a baby before reaching adulthood. They’d cope because of their own strengths and senses of responsibility but they’d also survive it because they’d have a lot of support. Other teenagers aren’t so lucky and go into parenthood without a strong family unit to help them.

Young women, in particular, are far less likely to finish school if they become teenage parents. Without completing high school, further education becomes much more difficult. The result of this cycle is often young mothers trapped in lower-paying jobs. The financial struggle can last a very long time. I don’t want my kids to be limited in this way or have to struggle when it can be avoided.

Relationships.

Across the board, data shows that teen parents are likely to end up single parents. Teen boys that become fathers are more likely to continue their education and be employed, but there are still often limitations on them due to their responsibilities. Teen girls who become parents, however, appear to be left with the larger burden of caring responsibilities. On top of all the stress they could experience, it’s likely they have to deal with the breakdown of a relationship, too.

It’s not any kind of study to go off, but the American series, 16 and Pregnant, that follows teens through their pregnancy and first weeks of parenthood, has been an eye-opener. At the end of the last series, very few of the couples were still together. I think there was only two, and of those couples, one was trying to recover from infidelity. Most of them were not on good terms and there was a lot of anger and resentment. 

I’ve been through a separation with a young child. In my 20s. With support and an income. Don’t get me wrong, it was a struggle. But to do it in my teens, with maybe less support and no means to earn a decent income? I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Prevention.

16 and Pregnant has a strong message of abstinence. On that final episode, all the girls were asked if they’d make the same choices if they could go back. None said they regretted their child but all expressed a regret that they hadn’t been abstinent. Most had either been careless with or uninformed about contraception, it had failed or they had agreed not to use any, with one teen father saying that condoms were like “a punishment”. What struck me was the young mums who hadn’t really known how to use contraception or what options were available. This is where I think parents need to do better.

teen parents- condoms condoms condoms!

Be like Dorothy.

We can educate our kids about safe sex. We can ensure they have access to contraception. Telling them to remain abstinent is all well and good, but I’m a bit more realisitic. Teenagers are still developing when it comes to impulse control and making good decisions. I’d love my kids to wait until they are emotionally and physically mature but kids don’t always do what’s best for them. So in the mean time, I’m not relying on school programs and hoping for abstinence.

Instead, I’m trying to keep an open mind and open dialogue. Yes, they’ve seen 16 and Pregnant, but more importantly, they know they can ask questions and they do. No question is left unanswered and no information is off-limits. It might feel awkward but I’d take an awkward question over being a grandparent in my 30s any day.

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  • Yah, something that is less than 3% of the total and trending downwards.. I wouldn’t consider that to be a massive problem! Individually, sure – it can be catastrophic. I suspect the key is parental support, ironically. And teenage abstinence – hmmm, nice idea. I doubt it’ll ever catch on. I read just today that a state in the US (sorry, can’t remember which one) made contraception for teens more readily available; within 12 months the teen pregnancy and abortion rates had dropped dramatically. Methinks that’s a rather more useful doctrine to focus on!

    • Yes, I read about that too! A much more sensible and realistic approach.

  • Mel Roworth

    Yes, Education and support. That’s what we’re here for isn’t it?
    Breaks my heart to see families turning their backs on children having children.

  • True, true.
    Those teenage parents broke my heart too. So sorry they had no support to at least give it a shot. Do you know if their baby will be fostered out until they are old enough to have her back or was she to be adopted?
    As much as the strain would be, if my teens were to have a baby, we would raise it together and support them. It’s totally undesirable but to part with a child would be devastating. These poor kids will suffer heartbreak for the rest of their lives.

    • I’m not sure what the plan is for that baby but I hope she grows up knowing her parents. She’s obviously loved. Poor kids.

  • An open mind and open dialogue is the best of all wisdom on this topic. I don’t think that it’s a new trend at all, my mum was one of that generation who got pregnant at 16 and was sent off to a convent to scrub floors and pay penance all through her pregnancy before having the baby taken from her. We like to think that we have come a long way from that, but we are still taking babies from teen parents? You’re right, there should be more support, but more importantly more support around safe sex practices. Thanks for writing this Amy, it’s part of a really thoughtful dialogue that needs to keep on going.

    • Your poor mum and so many who were in the same boat. You’re right, in some ways we haven’t come far at all.

  • Yes, I’ll take awkward questions any day too. Open communication and a supportive environment is definitely key. The story of those teenagers was heartbreaking.

  • I’d prefer that my kids don’t have kids while they’re still kids. But if it happens, we’d help them deal with it. Whatever way they wanted to. Hell, I’d even raise the baby if I needed to. But again,. I’d prefer my kids don’t have kids while they’re still kids. I want them to experience life a bit with selfish abandon before they have to be fully responsible for themselves, let alone for another human.

    • Yes, I feel the same. I’d do anything to help. But it’s not what I’d want for them.

  • There is no way I am ready to be a grand mother yet and my girls are 21 and almost 18. We have had all the discussions even though I did not enjoy it at times, but its paid off so far. Thankfully they are both savvy and smart and have no desire at this stage to be a mum. I really want them to have fun and enjoy freedom before they take on the rewarding but mammoth task of being parents.

    • That’s really good. Sounds like they’ve gotten enough info to make a good decision.

  • Yep, I would definitely take the awkward questions over the alternative any day!
    #teamIBOT

  • I can’t even think about my kids and becoming fathers yet. But I am very glad that my kids came later in my life – I think having a secure idea of yourself before kids is helpful. But then my mum had me young (21, married and with support) and loved “growing up” with us.

    • I was 21 with my first and it was hard, though I wouldn’t change it!

  • I feel the same way but with some families there is support and people can make a go of it. I was a married mum at 21 but had already been working as a permanently employed teacher married (still am) to a teacher. I really knew something about being a mum but it sure was hard then too. I would find it really challenging to know that my teen granddaughters could have babies at their age because life isn’t like it used to be. It is HARD… Recently Emma did her podcast on D and Em about her teen pregnancy. Did you get a chance to hear it? Denyse x

    • Some can do amazingly well- I wish all had the level of support they need 🙂

  • Yikes – this is timely. I just had THE talk with Miss T tonight after a lot of questions about how babies are made. Let’s hope we can keep the communication channels as open in the years to come 🙂

    • Ha! Yes, keep the doors open. It’s a fun convo, eh?

  • I remember when I was young, I thought it would be so cool to have kids at a really young age and be a really young mum. Then I grew up and didn’t want kids at all. I once asked a class of adult international students what they thought the perfect age was to have a baby – their ideas and reasons behind them were so different. That said, no one said 16 was the perfect age to pro-create although I’d add, it could be if the pregnancy is thought out and the parents are emotionally (and physically) prepared. When a teenage pregnancy occurs because of a lack of solid information,I’m with you, better to have the chat than alternative.

    • See how changeable we are in those formative years!

  • Brian Hu

    It is their choice, not yours. An argument that feminists used to justify their positions, no? On the other hand, I believe people should be able to care for themselves before having children.

    • I don’t believe I said it wasn’t their choice. The point of this piece is that I think we should do what we can to help our kids make fully informed decisions about things like this.