Teenage fatherhood not a walk in the park
While teenage motherhood has been extensively studied and documented, there has been relatively little research on teenage fatherhood.
Teenage males are cast as disinterested and/or unwilling participants in their children’s lives who mostly fail to meet parental responsibilities.
But some teenage fathers do take up the responsibilities of fatherhood and advocate on behalf of their children in respect of intergenerational repair and a better future for their children.
Child psychologist Martin Muema says, triggered by the arrival of a child, the transformation see teenage indulgence and indolence replaced with direction and responsibility. “This motivational turning point is sometimes relatively quick and stimulates consideration on behalf of the future of both the new father and the child,” he says.
For all men, fatherhood revolves around a metamorphosis that imposes demanding psychological upheaval irrespective of the age of the father.
Muema says these processes are intensified for teenage fathers, who experience an accelerated developmental trajectory and are faced with the formidable confrontation of a swift and often unexpected transformation.
“Like teen motherhood, teen father-hood has many negative educational, financial, social, health, and other developmental consequences for these young men and their children,” he adds.
When responsibility is operationalised through the traditional male imperative to provide, the challenges faced by the teenage father are considerable.
These include the demands of work, fiscal responsibilities and parental obligations.“The financial pressures on teen-age fathers are considerable. With limited educational qualifications and experience, their earning power in the labour market has a low ceiling,” Muema notes.
Not only is quality time with their children scarce, but the complex demands of sleep deprivation, managing child-care and balancing work and financial commitments have a negative impact on attempts to engage with educational goals.
Planning for the future could be either inhibited or enhanced by early fatherhood. For some, their plans are interrupted by the arrival of their child, but others are stimulated to think about the future in a manner that goes beyond the narrow considerations of ‘the selfish teen’.
Planning involved considerations about their relationship with the child’s mother and, most importantly, thinking about the future they could provide for their child.
A number of studies report a negative stigma associated with teenage fatherhood. For some, stigmatisation and negative attitudes could begin with the family of the mother of the child, a study by Jaime, Robbins & De Los Santos of 2016 cites. Cultural overlays provide a rich and complex lens through which to consider relationships. Some men are compelled not only to take responsibility but also, to pay money to the woman’s family. This can cause strain to the boy’s family who has to step in for their son’s ‘mistake’.
“As a result of the early onset of fatherhood, the adolescent male may encounter a variety of stressors which may, in turn, alter his ability to cope with the social, emotional, cognitive, and practical aspects of his life. These stressors may, in turn, affect the male adolescent’s capacity to parent,” Muema says.