Teen Parenting Disaster or Opportunity

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine any pros at all to being a teen parent. According to the http://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/aboutteenpreg.htm  the statistics are grim: Only about 50% of teen mothers finish high school by age 22. Their children are at risk, statistically, for greater rates of health problems, lower rates of education, higher rates of incarceration.

And teen parenthood is expensive. Lower education usually translates into a lifetime of lower wages. The various government benefits teen parents and their young families need to survive cost approximately  $11 billion a year in the United States http://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/aboutteenpreg.htm , all paid for by taxpayers.

Poor, troubled, and resented: that’s only a few of the cons. And it’s hard enough work to parent under ideal circumstances…being a teen makes it that much harder.

So, the pros? Hard to find. But they’re there.

Being a teen parent means learning the difference between you, and the statistics about your group. It means learning how to make sure you’re in the 50% of teens who do finish their education. It means learning how to make choices so your children aren’t part of the statistics of troubled childhood and adolescence.

The successful teen parent will know that he or she has made their family work against odds that more typical families never have to think about. They will know how to ask for help, and mend or develop relationships with others (family, school staff, medical personnel) that they can keep for a lifetime.

They may find themselves more focused on child-rearing and making a successful life for themselves and their child/children when their peers are discovering partying, drinking, and making the poor choices it’s so easy for young adults to make.

They’ll learn the harm that prejudging does, having experienced it themselves. And they’ll learn, quietly and usually behind closed doors, how many successful adults they know who were once teen parents.  

They will have more energy than the average parent out on the playground, and as time passes and they become adults with school-age, then adult children, this will serve them well.

When the thirty-six year old parent is facing the first year of being class parent and the demands of the soccer field and homework, the teen parent will be attending his or her child’s high school graduation and seeing an end to the demanding child-rearing years.

Against the statistics of the CDC, one has to consider individual experiences, such as one particular teen mom who faced unplanned parenting eighteen years ago. No one could have pointed out any pros to her family those first few months—her own parents were too angry and hurt. Within the first year, though, the pros began cropping up, unexpected but welcome.

This teen parent decided to be the best parent she could possibly be. She sought out advice from the adults around her. She learned to speak up to doctors when she was concerned.

And she loved her son. Seeing your teen becoming a loving parent…that’s a pro, no matter what else is going on.

She finished school, and went on to community college while working. According to her, she had to focus like a laser beam on education and career choices that would let her take good care of her family. It took thirteen years to finish college. If nothing else, being a teen parent taught her to never give up, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep studying when sleep or fun times called.

That perseverance, that determination, stems from having been a teen parent. She gives that “mistake” the credit for her attitude.

In 2013, this same “teen parent” received a Master’s degree in her chosen field. It took eighteen years, but she got there. Being a teen parent, and succeeding at it, means never getting to say “It’s too hard” and walking away from your dream.

Another pro to being a teen parent is knowing that no man, or woman, is an island. She learned that the connections she made, those relationships created out of necessity, were critical to a good outcome. Everybody needs help sometimes. And everyone deserves a non-judgmental helping hand if they’re willing to take it, and use it to better themselves and their families. She knows this, at a deeper level than most.

Are there enough pros to teen parenting to make it a good choice to become pregnant before age eighteen? Well, no. The deck is still heavily stacked against the average teen parent described in the Center for Disease Control’s statistics. And this particular “teen parent” is extremely committed to her own children understanding the effect that early child-bearing can have on one’s life and future.

There’s enough pros, though, if you know where to find them and are willing to work harder than you thought was possible, to keep teen parenting from being a disaster. Enough, hopefully, to encourage the teen parent and their family to hang in there, and keep trying to beat the statistics.