What image do you think of when you hear the words teen parent? Now take a second. I really want you to think about this. When I mention teen parent what comes to mind?
Chances are you are visualizing a teen mother pushing her baby in a stroller or holding her baby in her arms while she calms him or her to sleep. Regardless of what she is doing, you are probably visualizing a teen mom when you hear the phrase teen parent. Am I right?
Society over the years has programmed us to think this way, particularly the media. People interchangeable use teen parent to mean teen mom or vice versa because teen pregnancy is usually seen as a “girl problem”.
Last month I wrote a blog post about two shows that emphasize the difficulties of teenage motherhood. The MTV shows, ‘Teen Mom’ and ‘16 and Pregnant’, focus solely on the hardships of teenage mothers, but what about the teen dads? Where do they fit into all this? Why don’t they have their own show?
Periodically, the teen fathers make an appearance on the show. They add for some interesting drama, whether or not they are fighting about child support or being yelled at by their teen mom for not helping out enough. But the stars of the show are clearly the teen mothers and of course their babies. But last time I checked it still took a female and a male to produce a baby, so why is the mother the center of attention?
It is obvious that teenage fathers are often overlooked. Some would even call them the ‘forgotten partner’. In most cases it is the mother who ends up taking care of the child, while the father pays child support and occasionally attends to the mother and child. Teenage fathers are usually depicted as reckless deviants out to prove their sexual dominance with little worry of consequences; all awhile the teenage mom is stricken with exhaustion because she has been caring for her baby 24/7.
Teen fathers do not just receive this churlish title of negligent scamp because the media has decided to label them so. In fact, there is a strong correlation between teen fathers and delinquent behavior. According to the Rochester Youth Development Study and the Pittsburg Youth Study, prior involvement in delinquent behavior increases the risk that a boy will become a teenage father and teen fathers are likely to engage in delinquent behavior. It is a vicious cycle that has clouded the perception of teenage fatherhood in our society.
This is not to say that all teen fathers are neglectful. In fact, many teen fathers want to be involved with their child’s life. But this perception of the inattentive teen father may prevent young fathers in their efforts to provide for their baby.
When young fathers are empowered and supported, just as their female counterparts are, they are capable of making healthy and positive choices for themselves.
I recently read a story of a young male teen, with the assistance of his mother and sister, who cares for his child without the support of the teen mother. Travis Antonio Luciano is 19 years old and is a single dad. He works five days a week at a café at the Bronx Zoo and just recently received his GED. Luciano got his girlfriend pregnant, who was just 15 at the time. She moved to Philadelphia and occasionally visits their son. Luciano’s story is similar to any other teenage parent caring for a child. He has little to no free time, money is always tight and he simply misses being a kid.
It is stories like Luciano that need to be publicized in order to shed new light on the negative perception of teenage fatherhood. Teen fathers are faced with challenges, too, when they have a child to care for. What needs to be understood is that teen parent can and does mean teen dad too!