Teen pregnancy is not something parents wish for. Even if you are aware that your teen may be sexually active, news of her pregnancy will be shocking.
Once you are over the initial reaction, how do you move forward and help? Parents need to know how to help prevent tragedies like the 14-year-old accused of killing her newborn baby.
The news story was sobering — a pregnant teen delivered her baby at home and strangled it because she “didn’t know what to do with it.” While two of her aunts suspected she was hiding a pregnancy, her mother remained in denial. Could this story have had a different ending if the teen had more support? When you suspect — or confirm — that your daughter is pregnant, she needs your support, regardless of how you feel about the situation.
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So your daughter is pregnant — now what? Especially in the early stages of the pregnancy, emotions are high. This is a life-changing situation for your daughter, for your family and for the father of her baby. “Regardless of the complicated emotions that will most certainly arise during the pregnancy and once the baby is born, teens need parental support during this time,” says Katie Hurley, LCSW. “Without parental support, they are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care and maintain a healthy pregnancy diet.” It may be difficult for parents to step up and be supportive when they are upset, but this is crucial for your daughter and her baby. “Teen pregnancy is scary, isolating and can increase the risk for depression,” adds Hurley.
Dr. John Duffy has worked with many pregnant teens and their families. “I’ve found a few truths through these experiences,“ he shares. “Pregnant teenage girls do not need lectures about ‘carelessness’, ‘stupidity’ or ‘disregard for family rules or values.‘ I have witnessed a lot of this type of shaming from parents, and it makes things worse.“
Making your daughter feel the shame of her pregnancy — rather than dealing with the situation — does nothing to help her. What does help is to model good regulation on your emotions. “This is not to say that parents are not allowed their own feelings or disappointments,” adds Duffy, “but the bulk of the discussions should be warm, supportive and progressive in nature. I find that parents who are open and available can serve as trusted, badly-needed advisors to pregnant teens.”
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Teen pregnancy affects your daughter right now, but also has a major impact on her future. Plans for finishing school and going to college may be in jeopardy, and she needs guidance to navigate her future. “With parental support, they will be better prepared for the arrival of the baby,” says Hurley. “The fact remains that 50 percent of teen moms do not finish high school and teen moms are less likely to attend college. If parents work together with their teens to help plan for the baby, establish childcare and routines, and provide social support, those statistics can change,” adds Hurley.
A teen’s perspective
SheKnows writer Jessica Watson remembers her experience as a teen. “When I found myself pregnant at the age of 16, my parents were understandably very disappointed. It took time for them to process the news and all of the changes this meant for my life but they never turned their back on helping me reach my goals,” she shares. “They knew I needed to go to college and ultimately become a self-sufficient adult so they helped me make that happen.”
What does Watson think, now that she is the parent of a teenage girl herself? “I think not giving up on your teenager is the key,” she shares. “Letting them know you are there for them and they can still have a future even though it may be different than what either of you planned is the most important thing you can do as a parent.”
Teen pregnancy is something no parent wants to deal with. Talk to your teens often and keep the lines of communication open, so if your family is faced with a pregnancy you can provide the support your daughter needs.