Young Fathers Matter, Too!
When we discuss teen pregnancy we often gravitate toward the topics surrounding young mothers –such as reproductive decisions, their lives, educational and career goals. Every year in the United States approximately 750,000 young women become pregnant, which means that around 750,000 young men are involved in these pregnancies. Yet, when we discuss teen pregnancy we rarely acknowledge the role of young fathers in their children’s upbringing.
Young fathers are often invisible in conversations around parenting, but in reality their presence can play an integral role in child development. They are excluded from these discussions due to the stereotype that young men are “absent” fathers. This implicit bias stigmatizes young fathers to state agencies, such as child welfare, that make important decisions about the lives of their children. Young fathers are rarely given the chance to engage with the upbringing and well-being of their children because they are immediately written off by society and state agencies.
Approximately half of teen fathers are members of racial and ethnic minorities. And this demographic is likely to be partly responsible for why teen fathers are considered to be absent parents.
They are considered “missing” because of systemic racism within the criminal justice system that has led to higher rates of incarceration for racial and ethnic minorities. Research shows that incarcerated youth have higher rates of parenthood than teenagers in the general population; approximately 14% of incarcerated youth have children. And more young fathers are incarcerated than young mothers. Fathers are stereotyped as selfishly avoiding their parental responsibilities, when in reality many do not have the opportunity to engage in the upbringing of their children because they are incarcerated.
The incarceration of young parents could be related to the School-to-Prison Pipeline, which pushes students into the criminal justice system through exclusionary disciplinary policies in schools. Students that who are arrested three or more times are more likely to drop out of school, and high school dropouts are eight times more likely to end up incarcerated.
Students of color are disproportionately affected by the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Racial and ethnic minorities are incarcerated at higher rates because of systemic racism within the criminal justice system. These are the same populations that have higher rates of teenage pregnancy.
Contrary to popular belief, young fathers want to be involved in their children’s lives and have the capacity to be great fathers. However, they are rarely given the opportunity to engage meaningfully in the upbringing of their children due to barriers put in place by the criminal justice system, and the stigmatization of young fathers as “missing” it has created.
The biases young fathers face do a disservice to them as well as their children. Research shows that when fathers play an active role in child rearing families are more likely to prosper. Young mothers are less stressed, children develop better cognitive functions and social skills, and fathers are more likely to develop skills that help them cope with stress and they are reported to feel more confident in their jobs and social relationships.
The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy (MATP) supports the rights of teen fathers to be involved in the upbringing of their children. MATP works to break down barriers — such as the stigma of teen pregnancy — that prevent teen parents from accessing support they need to lead successful lives. We continue to advocate for dropout prevention policies and comprehensive sex ed that will ensure students have access to the the resources they need to make healthy choices.
Join the Alliance Wednesday, June 14th at the YMCA Dunbar Community Center in Springfield for our Young Men Matter, Too! Photovoice Exhibit. Come learn about our YM2 initiative, and help support young men making healthy choices!
MATP supports programs that are aimed at ensuring young fathers have the necessary resources to become engaged parents. Check out these resources that are doing great work to support disenfranchised youth and teen fathers:
- The Fatherhood Project: http://www.thefatherhoodproject.org/programs/#teen-dads
3. The Fatherhood Kit (resource booklet): https://fostercareresources.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/fatherkit03.pdf
4. MA Expectant and Parenting Teen Programs: http://www.massteenpregnancy.org/young-people/ma-expectant-and-parenting-teen-programs
About the author:
Indira Rao is a Public Policy Intern at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. She currently a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is pursuing a social justice education while working towards a BA in History and a certificate in Civil Engagement and Public Service.