South Africa: Fathering Teen Fathers

South Africa: Fathering Teen Fathers

Date: June 28, 2013
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Johannesburg, 28 June: “I was shocked and scared. I didn’t know how I was going to support him and how we were going to survive. But I was also excited about bringing a child into the world. I wanted to be able to do all things for him that were never done for me.”

Matthew Thompson was only 17 and still in school when he learned that his girlfriend was expecting a baby boy. The overwhelming excitement and fear he felt is very common among young men who find out they are going to be fathers. Like their partners, they sometimes do not know who to turn to, and often turn away entirely.

However, many teenage fathers like Matthew do not disappear and leave their partners to deal with the pregnancy on their own. Instead, they choose to take responsibility and help raise their child. We often forget that although young women generally shoulder more burdens and much greater hardships during adolescent pregnancies, young men also need extra guidance and support, especially if they are to become responsible fathers and partners.

Often teenage fathers want to play an active role in their children’s lives, but feel despondent and paralysed, because not only are they too young to provide financial support, but they themselves still need to be fathered so they can navigate adult life and fatherhood.

A recent study conducted by the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) called Teenage Tata: Voices of Young Fathers in South Africa led by Dr Sharlene Swartz, found that 26% of South Africa’s teenage fathers are still in school, 40% are unemployed and that most teenage pregnancy cases are more common in poorer communities.

The study also showed that although young men experiencing unplanned fatherhood feel scared, frustrated and ashamed, they most keenly expressed a high level of responsibility and a strong desire to love, invest and provide for their children.
Co-researcher Nothile Dlamini, explains that because young women bear the brunt of stigmas and consequences of teenage pregnancy, there tends to be less focus on teen fathers. She also questions the persistent stereotype that suggests all adolescent fathers are absent and unwilling to be dads.

“Assumptions are that teenage fathers do not want to be part of their children’s lives but in actual fact, we need to explore these perceptions and unpack the lived experiences and realities of teenage fathers,” Dlamini says.

The young men involved in the study also highlighted the crucial role their own fathers played in encouraging them to become active and responsible dads and, it is this point that needs attention.

What role should parents play in raising and educating their children to help avoid unplanned parenthood? During unplanned pregnancies, how can parents, specifically fathers continue to show support to ensure a successful future for their own children and a healthy upbringing of their grandchildren?

Communication is key. Openness and honesty are important because children need to know that they can turn to their parents for help. Many young fathers in Teenage Tata, expressed the need for adult men to tell them about safe sex, contraception and relationships, believing this may have prevented their unplanned pregnancy.

Fathers also need to keep this communication open during adolescent pregnancy, because teenagers need even more adult support and advice in order manage their situation in a healthy way.

Inclusion is also important. If society expects young men to own their responsibility, parents must allow them to do so. All too often families take over the negotiations, which excludes both the young man and woman from the choices made about their futures and that of their unborn child. They need to be included in the decision-making, because isolating the young parents hinders the teen father’s role in equal parenting.

Part of this inclusion is engaging men as birthing partners. Informing men about pre-natal and birthing phases, not only empowers them, but also helps empower women and lessens their stress during pregnancy and after birth.

Families should also recognise the diversity of fatherhood. According to the African Fatherhood Initiative, in order to engage men as caregivers, we must acknowledge that fatherhood goes beyond the narrow definition of biology and the nuclear family. Men play different roles in children’s lives and there are many different kinds of fathers out there. To name only a few there are single fathers, young fathers, grandfathers, father figures, stepfathers, gay fathers, fathers with different abilities and fathers living with HIV and AIDS.

Finally completing school is vital for both adolescent parents. Fathers must teach young men that an education will contribute the financial support of their child and ensure a better future for himself and his family. Young fathers must also understand that encouraging the mother of his child to return to school will also promote a better quality of life for her and the baby.

Parents, guardians and all father figures must take the lead in educating their children. They must also make the message clear: having a child as a teenager is not a disaster, but it is not child’s play either. It means lifetime of parenting, which requires commitment and sacrifice.

Teen fathers like Matthew are the kind of young men we should nurture, and instead of stereotyping all young fathers as being absent and irresponsible, parents should take every step to ensure adolescent parents are continually fathered and get all the support and guidance they need.

Thandiwe McCloy is a writer & sub-editor at loveLife, South Africa’s largest HIV prevention programme for young people. Angelo C Louw (@_MrLo) is a senior journalist and digital media strategist, working as Senior Print and Mobile content producer at loveLife.They write in their individual capacities. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on celebrating Phenomenal Fathers, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


One thought on “South Africa: Fathering Teen Fathers”

Nkosinathi Sixabayi says:

Great article. It would be interesting to get the entire paper.

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