By: Latanya “Epiphany” Richardson
The answer to the question all depends on who you are asking. Is this question directed to the pregnant teen or their now panicked, stressed out caregiver? It’s so true that parenting doesn’t come with a manual no matter how much we wish it did.
It’s important that the focus of our parenting be geared at turning our children into responsible productive, functioning, contributing members of society. Look no further but right outside your window, the news, or even your social media feed and see the outcome of parents failing to produce such individuals. Every parent has a responsibility to provide love, guidance, support, nurturing, food, water, clothing, shelter, and a stable healthy environment for their children to grow, learn, prosper and flourish. It’s up to us to teach our children right from wrong, morals, ethics, laws, and spirituality. All too often we put these task off on a third party such as the school, the church or worse yet, the government.
The fact that you are taking the time to engage in reading an article like this one shows your heartbeat as a parent. I would guess that even if you have made mistakes in your parenting that your desire is to give your child the best life possible. Most parents on any given day, are doing the best they can, with the resources they have. Most parents have the best intentions for seeing their children succeed. I can relate to this innate desire and passion from a variety of perspectives.
In my goal to be helpful in this area, here are 5 Key Steps to dealing with Teen pregnancy. What qualifies me to share on this topic? Besides a BA in Psychology, a Masters in School & Mental Health Counseling, 8 years as Psychotherapist (who helped hundreds of children, teens, and parents), my most credible insight and perspective, comes from the fact that I myself was a teen mom. I share my “against the odds” story, in a book called Miss Understood. I don’t expect many to even remotely have the kind of unusual experience that sums up my life as a teen mom. However, through my education, healing process, and experience working in the field, I believe I can bring something of value to the table.
Step #1 PREVENTION
I’m sure you have heard the saying that “An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The problem is, all too often parents wait until their teen is already engaging in sexual activity, or “expecting” to respond to this issue. If there is a way to start educating your child from an early age, I strongly suggest you do so. Some parents choose to ignore, hide their head in the sand, and/or refuse to deal with the topic of teens and sex. However, if not you, then who? Many children end up learning incorrect, inaccurate, misguided, false, and/or inappropriate information from their peers.
It’s highly recommended that children start receiving guidance about sex education as young as 4 years old. This form of teaching is tailored and made age appropriate. For instance, teaching a child about their developing bodies as well as “good and bad touch” are important milestones. Such information could be used as tools that help your child better cope. It’s not unusual that they may have anxiety and questions that come with growing and maturing.
These types of conversations need to be ongoing as your child develops. Just as you and your child have regular routine doctor’s appointments, discussions about their development should be routine as well. Helping them understand the fact how they will eventually reach puberty and experience various changes in their bodies are good parenting practices. The more relaxed and comfortable you make these conversations, the more likely your child will be to come to you with further questions. You will also help remove the shame and stigma often associated with these discussions. It’s understandable that talking to your child about sex can be as taboo, uncomfortable and stressful as anything one could imagine. However, when we consider the alternative of teen pregnancy, it will be well worth it to prevent the latter. A positive, healthy relationship that involves open communication and dialogue with your child, proper supervision and guidance will be some of your greatest assets, weapons and deterrents to teen pregnancy.
Step #2 EDUCATION
Now that we have established that sex education is a valuable and important part of a child’s growth and development we need to determine the proper resources to help both parent and child with these conversations. You don’t have to go on this journey blindly. There are tons of resources out there by way of groups, organizations, children’s books and individuals who will prove instrumental in helping you and your child understand and explore these issues and topics.
In addition, it’s important that education around this issue not just cover sex. It’s helpful to include topics such as self-esteem, identity/knowing yourself, peer pressure, emotional regulation, impulse control, responsibility and a whole host of other related topics that may play into why teens get involved in sexual activity. It’s imperative to address these “below the surface” issues that often are attributed with leading teens down this path. Questions such as: Are they the recipients of emotional baggage that resulted from their parent’s divorce? Have they witnessed violence in the home or the area where they live? Are they experiencing extreme poverty? Have they experienced some form of instability such as the parents job loss, mental health crisis, relocation, separation, drug use, or incarceration? Are they being raised in a single parent household, without a relationship with both their mother and father? Are all significant items in the equation. Children who experience these related issues are more at risk and likely to act out, rebel, get involved in premarital sex, drug use and a whole host of other problems. Parents who are vigilant in providing children with the necessary resources for their development will ultimately fair better. Parents who are watching for their child’s response to adverse life experiences and getting them help when needed will be better equipped at assisting them in developing healthy coping mechanisms. These children may go on to develop severe psychological issues if not properly dealt with and addressed early.
Educating oneself on child development, sex, and the related topics listed here will be an invaluable measure to combat, cope and deal with the issue at hand. If your teen is already involved in sexual activity or pregnant, it will not be an easy road. You will need to properly educate yourself on the topics at hand to get a better handle on your response and steps moving forward.
Step #3 EXPLORE OPTIONS
If your child is already sexually active or even if you have found out they are expecting, you will need to sit down with your child and explore some options. Before doing so, check your own emotional state and well-being. What is your ability to be calm, rational, and logical? If you are unable to talk without yelling or screaming or worse yet are ready to become violent then you may need to skip straight to Step #5 which talks about enlisting support.
You must understand that your child did not reach this state on their own accord. Children are only a product of the larger family system. The family system is a dynamic organism which acts upon the child’s development hence influencing their behaviors and decisions. The family system is also a smaller part of the larger community and societal systems including various interconnected entities that can have an impact and influence on the child’s life. Therefore, teen pregnancy can be seen as the result of a failure in the larger systems that surrounds the child.
The options of whether or not raise the teens child in your home or possibly give the child up for adoption are essential conversations to be considered and explored. This is usually the point where some parents may consider terminating their young teens pregnancy. It’s vital that if that is even a consideration you explore case studies of this method. Attempt to identify, locate and find those who have used this method and their sentiments years later. Many people who take this option or engage in this decision end up living with a great deal of shame, regret and remorse. The sad part about this option is that your child isn’t old enough to make this decision on their own and require your help, guidance and permission. Not only may your child grow to resent you for having them make such a life altering decision but you could also be responsible for causing them deep psychological trauma.
Another point to consider is what message are you sending to your child? Having worked with tons of parents who went to great lengths to protect their offspring from behavioral consequences, inevitably ended up doing more harm than good. You may be inadvertently sending the message to your child to take the easy way out, avoid facing consequences, skip on their responsibilities and in many pro-life perspectives murder their unborn child.
There are so many resources and options out there by way adoption services or even live-in-schools that would take in your teen and the baby. These types of programs often have success in helping the teen learn parenting skills, career exploration, gaining employment and housing before or after the child is born.
All of these items deserve careful attention and consideration. Hear and listen to your child’s perspective but ultimately it will be up to you as the parent and guardian how to proceed.
Step #4 HAVE A PLAN
After exploring all your options sit down with your child and create a plan. Its nice to get this in writing as you both are able to go back to it later and remember what you came up with. Here are some elements for any good plan…
· State the Problem(s)
· Create 3 Goals For Each Problem (Research SMART GOALS)
· Create 2-3 Steps to Reach Each Goal
· Answer the questions of who is involved & who will be responsible for what?
· Set a Realistic Time Frame to Complete each task and specific Goal.
It will help greatly to list out what will you do and what will your teen do? Its important to define the roles of who will be responsible for what? Involve your teen as much as possible in this entire process including all the steps listed. After all, this is their life. While you may have a legal responsibility for only a limited time (until they are an adult) they will have to deal with the fall out for years to come. When your child is of age, they will be expected by the larger society to handle things on their own. You may want to explain this to them along with how much involvement or support you will offer. You may want to help them use this process to gain the necessary skills in transitioning into adulthood.
Step #5 ENLIST SUPPORT
The good news is you don’t have to do this alone. You can ask for help. Reach out and seek support.
Potential Support Networks
Other places to find support would be…
· Your own inner circle
· Your family
· The Teens Significant Other and Their Family
· Your Child’s School including the School Counselor or Social Worker
· Local Community Agencies
· Online programs (Google Search Teem Mom or Teen Pregnancy Support Services)
You can go back to Step #4, identify and list your support network as well as other resources to include in your plan. Ask yourself; Who is equipped in your circle? Who has dealt with this before? Other questions to explore are: What is the teen’s partner’s (who helped them create life) perspective or involvement? Is the male still involved? Is he underage as well? What about his parents? Could they be involved with the development of Step #4?
Just to mention that hospitals are great resources as many of them have support groups for teen parents. Another vital fact is you will need the involvement of medical professionals. I would encourage you to include their doctor in your plan. Enlist your child’s doctor and referral to the OBGYN. This step is key, essential and extremely important. As a teen parent, regular prenatal care and doctor’s visits are so very pertinent. The potential complications are endless. There are so many complications that a teen could face in their pregnancy that a healthy grown adult may not have to worry about. Think about it, a growing, still developing body trying to carry a baby is vastly different from an adult who gets pregnant. For example, to be transparent, my daughter was born premature on a heart monitor. She was so small at 2lbs 3 oz’s that she had to stay in the infant ICU for the first 3 months of her life. She remained on the heart monitor even after she was discharged and I, as an underaged minor had to learn CPR, and tend to her medication. Can you imagine the fear, stress and trauma of being a teen alone with a sickly baby on a heart monitor? Teens who get pregnant require a hefty support system and lots of care.
All too often there is a stigma around counseling and therapy. Most are under the impression that one must wait until there is problem to seek out support. However, this just isn’t true. Counselors can be great resources for prevention as well as helping you navigate broaching topics such as sex education with you child or teen. Counselors can also be great resources to help you build your support system and network. If you have a pregnant teen or are a pregnant teen, counseling could really help you cope with all the various issues associated with your situation.
If by chance you are a child or teen reading this and have questions about these issues, I encourage you to reach out to your caregivers for help and support. If you are in a home where that is not possible then please try to identify a trusted credible adult such as your school counselor, doctor, coach etc., who could support or help guide you to answers about these questions. It’s important you don’t go it alone. Seek out safe, trustworthy guidance about your questions, issues, problems and even teen pregnancy.
Latanya “Epiphany” Richardson M.S.Ed, RMHCI is an Award Winning Author of 7 books. She is the owner and operator of several Entrepreneurial endeavors from a Publishing Company, Write Life Dream Publishing, a Social Media Marketing Service, The Writer Market Biz Coach, a Graphic TShirt Line called Ms. Sidewalk Rose on Teespring and more.
You can Support and follow her at www.amazon.com/author/latanyasepiphany;
Fb.me/EpiphanysBooks or any social media platform under the @epiphanytanya handle.