It’s certainly a huge shock to find out that your teenage daughter is pregnant, or your son is about to become a dad. You may well feel angry or resentful as your plans for your child’s life have taken a sudden and unexpected turn.
Parents of teenagers might well be anxious about the risk of teenage and underage pregnancy. Stories in the media seem to suggest that teenagers are likely to sexually active from an early age, but the reality is not so extreme. In fact, 75% of teenagers wait until after they are 16 before having their first sexual experience.
Keeping the lines of communication open
Family Lives encourages parents to show that they are there for their teenagers, ready to listen and talk when their child wants to. Once the lines of communication are opened up, it will be much easier to talk openly about sexual relationships and to give easy to understand messages on contraception and the importance of safe sex.
Research shows that when children have been told about sex and relationships from an early age, especially by their parents, they will be more likely to delay sexual activity and when they do form a sexual relationship, will be confident enough to discuss contraception with their partners and ensure they have safe sex. That said, teenage pregnancy is a reality and some parents may find themselves. If your teenager or their partner is pregnant, or if you want to prepare for this eventuality, we’ve provided some information to help you give them as much support as possible.
Supporting your teen
This is a time when your teen needs your support the most. You’ll need the opportunity to adjust too and possibly help to sort out your feelings. What’s most important, though, is to stay calm – and keep talking to your teen. If your child has come to you with this news, it’s important to see it as a positive step as it means they want your support and help. A young person in that situation doesn’t necessarily have to come and talk to their parent; they can have a confidential conversation about their sexual health and get treatment, even if they’re under 16, without their parent’s consent.
Many young people avoid telling their parents because they’re frightened of their reaction and often say “My parents will kill me” but what they don’t realise is that once their parents have got over the initial shock; almost all will give their children the help they need.
It’s absolutely crucial that parents are as supportive as possible. Young mums and dads-to-be can end up trying to cope in very difficult situations and if a rift develops between them and their parents over the pregnancy. It will cause unnecessary strain on family relationships and possible rifts.
It’s most important for your child to feel that they can confide in someone. Unfortunately, fear of telling anyone means some young people don’t admit they’re pregnant until very late. In some cases they are even denying it as they are wheeled into the delivery room. This can lead to all kinds of health problems for the mum and the baby.
Young people who are pregnant must confide in a trusted adult, perhaps a GP or a teacher, so they can get the help they need. This person can also help liaise with their parents too.
If your teenager has come to you for help, what should you do?
Find out the timeline. If sex has taken place in the last 72 hours, your daughter could get emergency contraception (the ‘morning after’ pill) free from a pharmacy or a sexual health clinic. Confirm the pregnancy. Free pregnancy tests are available at your GP’s, Brook, or your local sexual health clinic.
Tell your child you’re always there to talk – but it’s important for them to go for counselling with a trained professional to consider all the options. Make sure the decision to continue with the pregnancy or not is hers, not yours.
For some young people, their decision will be immediate but others may need more time. The FPA recommends that if an abortion is a possibility, your teen should get in touch with an abortion service straightaway, as waiting times vary and can be as long as five weeks. They can always cancel this appointment later if they decide against it.
If your son has told you his girlfriend is pregnant, realise how positive it is that he has come to you and acknowledge this to him. Work out what he needs from you: does he want to talk? Does he want you to help him talk to the other family? Maybe he wants you to know but not to get involved.
Remember it’s never too late to talk about contraception – and this is an important opportunity. You may need extra help in coming to terms with this new situation. The FPA’s Rebecca Findlay advises:
Accept that you’ll experience a whole range of emotions and fears. This is completely normal. Focus on your teen’s needs, not your feelings. Remember, their welfare is priority. Try to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally involved to give you a different perspective and you can speak to us at Family Lives.
Ensure they receive good medical care, attend all their ante-natal appointments and eat a balanced diet. If the parents-to-be smoke cigarettes, encourage them to quit and get advice on the support available. It is important to ensure the mum to be doesn’t drink alcohol too and again, the midwife can talk to the parents to be if there are concerns.
Make sure they are put in touch with support groups for young mums and dads-to-be in your area, and schemes such as Care to Learn, which will help them fund childcare and so continue their education after the birth.
Support for pregnant teens or young fathers
For teenagers who decide to go ahead with a pregnancy, there are a wide range of education and training opportunities available. They can stay at school up until the birth and then return to school afterwards,with a maximum 16-week break immediately before and after the birth. Some areas have specialist units for teenage mums, and if they are under 20, the government's Care to Learn scheme can help towards childcare costs.
Government figures suggest that a quarter of dads of babies born to teen mums are under 20, and half are aged 20-25. The needs of these young dads are often forgotten. Young dads need plenty of emotional support too, and to learn parenting skills in addition to continuing their work, training or education. Some may still be at school themselves.
Unlike mums, fathers do not always have parental responsibility for their children, even if they have lived with the mother for a long time. One way to ensure this is by jointly registering the baby's birth. Further details for young dads are available on www.gov.uk.
Brook provide support and guidance to young parents on a range of issues. It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.