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Being there, without (always) being there

June 16, 2010

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that well over half of teen boys who are sexually active think it is ok for an unmarried female to have a baby, and nearly 3/4 of girls felt the same way – a jump from the CDC’s last survey in 2002.

Becuase teen parents are much less likely to marry or cohabit than older couples, it can be particularly hard for teen dads to stay engaged with their children, says Jay Fagan, a professor of social work in the College of Health Professions and Social Work.

A study co-authored by Fagan last fall found that teen fathers were actually more involved in their child’s lives at one year than older fathers , yet by the time the child was three, the teen fathers were much less so.  Fagan says this is due to a number of risk factors.

“Things like drug abuse, poverty, nonromantic involvement with the mother, and incarceration can greatly affect how involved a teen father is with his child,” said Fagan.  “It could be that the parents of the mother think he is a negative influence and keep him away, or the mother might act as the gatekeeper, and not want that ‘bad influence’ around the child.”

However, Fagan says it’s important to instill in young parents the concept of co-parenting.  That is, even if Dad and Mom aren’t together, they should still communicate with each other and work as a team for the sake of their child.

“Many teen fathers want to be involved in their child’s lives, regardless of the relationship with the mother,” said Fagan.  “It becomes imperative then, for young fathers and mothers to form an alliance, to avoid some of those barriers that fathers face when it comes to their involvement.”

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