Who’s supporting teen dads?

If teen mothers are labelled with a swathe of stereotypes (promiscuous, stupid, hopeless), teen fathers are too. The expectation is that a teen dad will head for the hills as fast as he can, providing little or no emotional or financial support to the pregnant girl.

But according to a study by the HSRC, many teen dads are aware of the magnitude of the responsibility, and would like to play a role in raising their child. Teenage Tata, Voices of Young Fathers in South Africa takes a close look at the attitude of fathers between the ages of 14 and 20. 

Among the trends the researchers found was that teen fathers feared the response of their families to the news that their girlfriends were pregnant. They felt that their parents would be disappointed in them, and were also very aware of the financial expectations brought about by a pregnancy. Teen fathers may find their role usurped by other family members, leaving them sidelined.

‘Just like young mothers, young fathers require support to improve their educational and economic circumstances in order to fulfil caregiver and provider roles,’ says a study on Teenage Pregnancy done by the Human Sciences Research Council.

‘In the absence of institutional support, families play a critical role in cushioning the blow of early fatherhood by taking on care-giving roles.

‘But in some cases, cultural practices that govern family responses – while no doubt well intended, serve to estrange young men from their children,’

A clue to the importance of enabling fathers to stay involved lies in this statistic from the Teenage Tata study: of the teen fathers studied, 63% themselves had absent fathers.

As a society, we may tend to expect the worst from teen fathers, or treat them as minor players in the drama of teenage pregnancy. Would many of these stories play out differently if teen fathers were given the chance to give emotional support even if circumstances prevent them from giving financial support? By expecting the worst of teen fathers we may be doing them, their pregnant partners and the unborn child a huge disfavour.

What role do teen fathers play? How should they be handled?

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