With rising teen pregnancy rates across Texas, a renewed sense of urgency is building around teen parents. And by teen parents, I mean teen moms, because let’s face it, when was the last time you even talked about teen dads?
This silent disregard for teen dads trickles down to a lack of programming and parental support for them. Traditionally relegated only to the role of financial child support, teen fathers actually play an active role in caring for their child, despite assumptions to the contrary.
This is critical for babies, as studies show that young children with actively engaged fathers have better outcomes including reasoning skills, educational achievement, and self-esteem. These gains show up in school as well. Children with involved dads are 39 percent more likely to earn As in school, and twice as likely to go to college and find stable employment after high school.
Being an active dad also benefits the fathers themselves. Fathers gain important personality aspects from their children, such as an expanded ability for caring and nurturance, and emotional intensity. Involved fathers are shown to have a decrease in negative behaviors, ranging from less substance abuse to less than average contact with the criminal justice system.
Yet despite the research, we have a double standard in our country that urges us to protect and support the thousands of teen moms who struggle in the role of parent, while discounting the teen dad’s role, outside financial obligations.
For the past 18 months, First3Years has worked with teen fathers in locations varying from high school to juvenile detention. During these sessions, I’ve heard numerous teens say that this is the first time anyone has offered them support as fathers. More importantly, I’ve seen these same fathers strengthen their emotional connection and commitment to their child as they begin to understand and value their unique role as a dad.
Despite the need, I find it difficult to build real traction and support for teen fathers within broader community organizations. Without fail, as we present the opportunity to offer programming specific to teen dads, the question immediately turns to what we can do for teen moms, with a correlating reluctance to rearrange programming to accommodate a fatherhood focus.
This disrespect for the role of fathers isn’t lost on dads either. A national parent study conducted by ZeroToThree, showed that 63 percent of dads feel they “don’t get enough credit for their involvement in raising and caring for young children,” while 90 percent say that being a parent is their greatest joy. And dads aren’t alone in that sentiment. Sixty-four percent of moms in that same survey agreed that dads didn’t get enough credit for their role as dads.
While recent years have shown un uptick in fatherhood programming, it still remains an afterthought for most teen parent programs, and programs focused on new parents in general. Teen parents already have it tough; our role as a community should be to support both parents parenting together. To do that, we must respect the role of teen fathers, invite them to the table and give them the support we unhesitatingly provide to teen moms.