Happy Father’s Day — but you’re still a little young to be grandpa

Photo by greenaperture

“Happy Father’s Day, Grandpa!”

Sure, it’s something you’d love to hear someday. But if you’re the parent of teen, it’s not something you want to hear from your kid’s kids anytime soon. Let’s be real: You’re still too young to be “Grandpa.”

And yet, that’s exactly what many dads of teens are becoming, quite a bit earlier than they expected. While you ponder this hypothetical and get your eye to stop twitching, let’s take a step back and consider how dads like you can make a difference.

Although they probably don’t let onto it, many young people consider parents to be the most influential individuals in their lives.

Not peers, not romantic partners, not pop culture. Parents. That’s you, Dad.

And thank goodness — because when it comes to relationships and sex, there’s no shortage of bad influences that are competing for your kids’ attention. Parents like you are uniquely positioned to help kids understand the choices they make during their formative years and the consequences they carry.

We often talk about teen pregnancy in terms of the consequences faced by the teen mom — and with good reason. Pregnancy delays and often ends a young woman’s education; more than 60 percent of teen moms drop out of high school when they become parents, and fewer than 2 percent earn a college degree by their 30th birthday. In terms of physical health outcomes, teen moms are nearly twice as likely as older moms to forego prenatal care during their first trimester.

In Texas, we have more teen parents than any other state, with half a million teen births in the last decade alone. Clearly, we need to have a talk with our young people — and not just our girls.

A conversation we don’t have quite as often is that teen pregnancy puts our sons in a bad position, too. They’re likely as unprepared for parenthood as the mother of their child. Of course, teen pregnancy doesn’t affect a young father’s physical health and it’s also less likely to derail his education than it is to derail his partner’s. However, the early pregnancy does set him up for increased likelihood of failure as a father. Teen fathers are generally unsure how to support their partner and unlikely to receive guidance. Sadly, statistics show that they’re also unlikely to be highly engaged once their baby is born.

For example, roughly one-quarter of teen mothers reported receiving child support in the prior year. And half of teen mothers who don’t live with their partner report that their baby’s father visits less than once a month. More often than not, this results in unstable family structures that end up producing poor outcomes in terms of poverty, education and health — for both parents and children. Unintended pregnancies often take teens out of the educational pipeline, where they can develop into productive members of society and the economy, and instead places them into the social services pipeline. In Texas, 86 percent of babies born to adolescents are paid for by Medicaid, and they’re at high risk of continued reliance on government support.

Conversely, if more children in this country were born to parents who are ready and able to care for them, we would see a significant reduction in a host of social problems afflicting children in the United States.

Mature, prepared fathers are half the equation.

A father’s involvement has been demonstrated to have an important influence on child wellbeing. Studies show that having a high quality relationship with the father can reduce problem behavior among adolescents. Such is the potential of positive fatherhood, and there’s no better day than today for celebrating it.

But it all starts with encouraging our children — girls and boys — to be wise in the choices they make about sex and relationships.

This is where you come in, Dad. You’re one of the most important people in your teen’s life. You want the best for them, and you want the best for your grandchildren someday.

So talk to your kids, and be up front with them about the level of commitment that positive fatherhood and motherhood demand. Explain that children born to parents just a few years older are at a significant advantage emotionally and economically, and that the benefits of this will last a lifetime. I promise you this: Someday, they — and their own kids — will thank you. You’re doing them a great service.

So here’s to you, someday-Grandpa. Have yourself a happy Father’s Day.

Dr. Gwen Daverth

CEO, Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy