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Teen Parenting – The Challenges

By Julia Stark – Teen Parenting Programme Manager

Parenting is a particular challenge for teenage biological parents and care-givers who are struggling to cope with adolescent developmental change whilst faced with the responsibility of “being parents” and caring for their biological children or their younger siblings.

Specific challenges faced by teenagers with parenting responsibilities often include the following:-

Inability to cope with dual parenting and teenage roles  

In addition to household chores of cleaning and cooking after school each day, teen parents and caregivers need to take care of their infant children and/or younger siblings.  Whilst riding the emotional rollercoaster of normal adolescent developmental change, they face all the challenges that adult parents face, including sleepless nights and concerns about the health, feeding and sleeping habits of their babies, for which they are ill prepared.  Added to this, are their academic responsibilities for which they have little time, unless they have adequate support. The Pandemic this past year, with its uncertainties related to the opening and closing of schools, has placed even greater academic demands on teenagers who have been expected to ‘self-learn’ with intermittent teacher engagement and lack of economic resources to afford even basic WhatsApp access to academic input. 

School dropout

Many teen moms simply have no one to take care of their child on a reliable basis and no resources for ‘paid’ childcare.  The concern is that their school absenteeism may result in them falling so far behind with their school work that they see no point in persevering, and they may dropout.  This would have serious repercussions on their ability to provide adequately for themselves and their child in the future. 

Unpreparedness for parenting

Most teen parents are thrust into their parenting roles with only their own experiences of how they have been parented, to fall back on.  In homes where anger and shame over the teenage pregnancy are unresolved, there is often a lack of much needed guidance regarding good, caring and nurturing parenting practices, support and practical daily assistance with child care.

Ongoing relationship conflict within the home over roles and responsibilities 

of parents of the teenager, the teenage mom, the father of the child and paternal grandparents, in relation to:

  • the father’s/paternal grandparent’s access, roles and responsibilities;
  • financial maintenance;
  • daily care of the child; and 
  • childcare practices
  • cultural practices

The longer these matters remain unresolved, the more damaging the impact on family relationships and mental health of all involved.

Stigma and discrimination erode the self-esteem and impact negatively on the coping mechanisms of the teen mother.  Whereas the teen father is often held in high esteem by his ill-advised peers, the teen mom often finds herself suddenly abandoned by both her boyfriend and her peer group, who no longer want to be associated with a teen mom.  At clinics, she is often treated harshly.  Educators consider her a source of disrepute to the school.  She may even find herself unwelcome in her church community and be expelled from the youth choir.  These rejections, together with her own self-recriminations, may negatively and seriously impact her mental health. 

The Teen Parenting programme seeks to equip the teen parent and care-giver with parenting skills and life-skills in a supportive, non-judgmental group context.  Teenagers who have been part of our programme testify to having been able to face their particular struggles and to have enlisted the support necessary to cope with the challenges of raising the children in their care.

Contact us on 021 762 0116 or email our Teen Parenting Programme Manager on julia@theparentcentre.org.za