Teen parents are a much maligned group. We often blame them for their “choice” of becoming a teen parent and then for all of the untoward outcomes that can follow. Our blame, however, is short sighted and wrongly placed. Why some teens become parents is a complicated issue with social inequality and poverty at the heart of the matter.
Most teen parents however, regardless of why they became parents, want to do what is right by their children. They are often more motivated after birth to complete their education and being a good parent is a goal for both teen mothers and fathers. For teen dads however, no matter how motivated, staying involved in their children’s lives can be challenging.
Young men are not engaged in either pregnancy prevention or teen parenting programs in meaningful ways and our policies for non-marital fathers often create significant barriers for their continued involvement in their child’s life. Combine this with teen immaturity and angst and it becomes easy to see why so few teen dads stay involved. The good news is that we have some knowledge about how to change this.
The prenatal and birth periods are prime times to engage young men in learning what it means to be a father and the important role they can play in their child’s life. Prenatal co-parenting classes are one approach that shows some promise in helping teen parents’ realize their lifelong role as parents—regardless of the outcome of their intimate relationship. Early research has shown that young men who engage in prenatal co-parenting classes are more likely to pay child support and remain positively engaged in their children’s lives when compared to their peers who have not engaged in this type of programming. The idea is relatively new and not firmly based in science, but what have we got to lose by trying this approach? I recently canvassed many of my colleagues in the public health and health care arenas to ask if they knew anyone in Baltimore offering this approach—the answer was no.
So here’s one audacious idea, Baltimore City takes the lead in offering this approach to our record numbers of teen parents and see how we fare in improving the lives of their children. Who wants to go first?