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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.