Reported by MTV Act.Today is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
, a day to talk about things like birth control and other ways to keep unwanted pregnancies from happening. It’s also a day where you’ll hear a lot of statistics about teen moms, like how less than half of teen moms ever finish high school, and how many teen moms live well below the poverty line.
But where are all the stats about teen dads?
It takes two to tango, but most of the country and media’s dialogue on the issue of teen parenthood concentrates on women. Part of this is because of a (sexist) double standard, in which it’s seen as the girl’s sole responsibility to take care of birth control (I mean, seriously, why isn’t there a pill for guys yet?), and the guy is just being a guy (see: horny).
Part of it is also because, even though it takes two people to make a baby, time and again teen moms do more of the childrearing than teen dads. On shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” the guys are so glaringly absent, that the message being communicated is that becoming a teen mom also means becoming a single teen mom. And unfortunately, this is actually pretty true. As of 2012, only 1 out of 4 teen fathers lived with their child’s mother at the time their child was born, and only 8 percent of teen dads were married to their child’s mother.
Looking up stats on teen parenthood, you can find plenty of specific numbers on how hard it is for a teen mom to finish college (let alone high school), advance her career path, and get out of the cycle of poverty. Same stats on teen dads? Basically nonexistent. In fact, when you do get stats on teen dads, they usually have to do with teen moms, too. For example, while we don’t have exact numbers, we do know that teen dads, like teen moms, are much less likely to graduate high school. They also tend to make less money than men who wait longer before deciding to become dads.
To top it off, teen dads are more likely to become dads again soon and before they get themselves fully on their own two feet: when they’ve reached their early 20s, about half of teen dads have had a second baby. Lack of stats on teen dads is also tied to lack of resources and help for teen dads, which isn’t fair for any of us. Perhaps if there was more of a cautionary tale about the downsides of becoming a teen dad, more young men would feel the burden of responsibility and think twice before skipping birth control. But then again, you never know, because no one is really asking them.
I do remember being in seventh grade health class, and some teen parents came in to talk to us about not having kids before you’re ready. There were several young women and one young man. I remember being struck by how they all had the same expression: exhaustion. They all told the same stories about how stressed they were and how much they wished they weren’t in this situation. The guy was in the same boat as the girls: he talked about lack of sleep, diapers, not being able to chase his dreams. My teacher remarked about how unusual it was to have a teen dad speak up; I think she might have even said they’d never had a teen dad come to speak at the school before.
Raising a baby is hard, whether you’re a teen mom or a teen dad. Babies aren’t as constantly adorable and easy as they might look on TV. Kids who are born to older parents in stable relationships are also more likely to do well in life and not repeat a cycle of poverty. Studies have also shown time and again how beneficial dads are when it comes to raising a kid, and how important they are to their child’s well-being. The expectation – perpetuated by TV shows, music, and society generally, is only creating a low standard for teen dad’s to meet. According to ncsl.org, “teen fathers may pay less than $800 a year in child support, compounding financial difficulties for the parent responsible for day to day care. Teen fathers are often poor themselves; research indicates that they are also less educated and experience earning losses of 10 to 15 percent percent annually.”
So what does all this mean? It means it’s time to include dads more in the talk on teen parenthood, and it’s also important that both guys and girls are educated about and dedicated to using birth control, and have easy access to it. While it takes two people to get pregnant, it only takes one to prevent it. You can be that one– be bold and speak up!
Teenage guys need to be held accountable long before they become teenage dads.
Whatever your gender, if you’ve got Q’s about how birth control works, check out It’s Your (Sex) Life to get your answers. Teen parenthood is 100% preventable and you’ve got lots of options.