So much has been written and said about the problems created by teen pregnancy, particularly the problems it creates for teen moms and their children. Teen moms are, for example, much less likely to graduate from high school, or get a high school diploma by age 22, than are teen girls who don't have children. This disparity leads to other long-term disparities between these two groups including fewer employment opportunities and lower earnings for teen moms. And most of them receive little or no child support. These disparities place a burden on society as 63 percent of these moms rely on some kind of public assistance. Teen pregnancy places the children of teen parents at increased risk for a host of poor outcomes too numerous to mention here.
But what about teen dads? What do we know about their interactions with the mothers of their children? Do their interactions make things better or worse for the moms and children? Here's what we know.
We know they're much less likely to be involved in the lives of their children than are adult fathers. One primary reason is, quite simply, that a teen dad is rarely married to the mother. A whopping 88 percent of these parents are not married. Nevertheless, 20 percent of teen moms live with their "romantic partner" (most likely the father, but not necessarily a teen) within a year of giving birth. Even if all of these romantic partners are the fathers and are also teens, that's still a very low number of them living with their children. And that's unfortunate, because teen fathers who live with their children at the birth of their children are more likely to still live with them when these fathers become adults.
Fortunately, there is good news about the involvement of teen dads not living with their children and the impact of their involvement.
- Half of these dads visit with their children at least monthly with most of them spending time with their children frequently. Interestingly, this is about the same rate of visitation among older nonresident fathers.
- Some research has shown the quality of the father-child relationship does not differ when comparing teen and adult fathers, contrary to popular belief. Surprisingly, teen dads are more likely than adult dads to feel attached to their children.
- Additional research finds a positive impact of teen fathers on teen mothers and their children when teen fathers are involved before and immediately after the birth of their children. These teen fathers have a protective effect by reducing the risk of depression of teen mothers and distress of infants.
So when we take all of these facts into consideration, the picture of teen fathers' involvement in their children's lives is mixed. While the ability of teen dads to be involved in their children's lives is more challenging because of their lack of physical proximity, most of them are involved at some level and, when they are, have a positive impact on their children and the mothers.
The question, then, for organizations and practitioners is: How can I increase teen fathers' involvement? There are several ways, and NFI's resources can help:
- Provide fathering education to teen fathers. NFI's 24/7 Dad® program is an excellent choice as organizations around the country have used it successfully with teen dads.
- Provide education to teen moms on the importance of father involvement and how they can facilitate that involvement. NFI's Mom as Gateway™ workshop and Understanding Dad™ program are excellent choices.
Do you work with teen dads? Do you use a comprehensive approach that involves working with teen dads and teen moms?