April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is the fourth and final post in a blog series about APA’s ACT Raising Safe Kids (ACT-RSK) program. ACT-RSK teaches positive parenting skills to parents and caregivers of children from birth to age 8. Make sure to check out our first, second and third posts in the series.
By J. Riley Bailey, PhD (TEEN+ Project Director) & Janon Wilson-Wilbourn, PhD (Lead Social Worker, TEEN+ Project)
Pregnant and parenting teens need support. They have to raise children when they are still children themselves.
They need lots of support, including social, medical, emotional, and academic assistance. The best help (i.e., help that is readily available from entities willing to assist in a reasonable, enlightened manner) generally comes from family, school, and community agencies.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s benchmark report, When Children Have Children, stated a major concern this way.
“One of the first kinds of support pregnant teens will need is emotional and social support. Although parents of pregnant teens may feel angry and/or disappointed, they should also try to offer support to their teen who is likely to be dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.”
And no, we are not encouraging teens to have babies.
Rather, we believe that empowering pregnant and parenting teens with the appropriate parenting skills and support is the answer. That is what we try to provide in the TEEN+ pregnancy/parenting program in Shelby County Schools in Memphis, TN.
We are somewhat surprised when we meet people who think supporting pregnant teens or teen moms and dads means encouraging teens to engage in behaviors that lead to pregnancy. Why is it so difficult for so many people to understand this difference? While we know that teen pregnancy is unhealthy and uneconomical, teen parenting is not a plague.
In a discussion regarding “babies having babies”, it is not uncommon to overlook a simple fact: some teens are not pregnant by choice. Although we know that some pregnancies are preventable, some are not. Some girls are raped; some are molested by family members and/or “friends” or partners of family members. These teens deserve much support and assistance, including mental, social, emotional, psychological, and medical interventions. With the correct assistance and support, teen moms and dads can graduate high school, obtain a college degree, maintain a good paying job, and become contributing members of their communities.
Keeping an open mind when thinking and discussing teen pregnancy/parenting is useful if we want to give these youth a fair shake.
Rather than debating whether teen pregnancy/parenting is wrong, which does nothing to help teens who are already on a path towards parenthood, let’s agree that teen parenting/pregnancy is not a lifestyle designed for teens to successfully handle. Most teenagers are enjoying what is normal for their age: going to the movies, socializing, preparing for proms or going to the next sporting activity. Teen parents, however, are spending long, weary nights placating crying babies, washing clothes, and making formula, to name a few common activities.
In practice, many young people who are already pregnant or parents, mostly those from low-income, disadvantaged families, are unprepared for their toughest challenge, being parents.
They receive little or NO assistance or support from their families or society.
That’s why we in Shelby County Schools in Memphis, TN are helping high school teens to learn to raise safe children. We adopt the ACT Raising Safe Kids Program curriculum developed by the American Psychological Association (APA) to help promote positive parenting skills and practices that prevent child maltreatment and protect children from the negative consequences of abuse. Hundreds of teen parents have completed the program’s 8 sessions and report changes in their parenting practices.
Additionally, we use the Nurturing Parenting Curriculum, a family-centered initiative designed to build nurturing parenting skills as an alternative to abusive and neglectful parenting and child-rearing practices.
Our teens are getting skills and other tools designed to help create safe, nurturing, and healthy environments for themselves and their children. It is time to reach out and help teen parents in tangible ways, including:
appropriate prenatal medical care,
parenting skills training,
information on adoption options,
assistance maintaining/keeping prenatal appointments,
providing knowledge and access to public and private community resources, and
demonstrating and supporting strategies to continue their education and improve their quality of life.
We believe our program has had positive effects on teen moms and dads in our schools and communities; we further believe that adequate support and assistance can help teens become successful students and better citizens.
It is important to help teens take responsibility for their role as a parent. We want to help teens understand that difficulties from a pregnancy resulting from a bad decision or from a traumatic experience can be met with workable solutions, hard work, and trust. This attitude helps build character and is one of the reasons we support our Shelby County Schools teen parents.
James R. Bailey, PhD (TEEN+ Project Director)
Dr. Bailey received his Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology, a Master’s in Sociology, and his B.S. in education (concentration in math and psychology) from the University of Memphis, Memphis, TN.
Janon Wilson-Wilbourn, PhD, LMSW, LSSW (Lead Social Worker, TEEN+ Project)
Dr. Wilson-Wilbourn received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from Rust College (Hollysprings, Mississippi) and Master’s and Doctoral Degrees in Social Work from Clark Atlanta University. She is a certified “ACT Facilitator “with the ACT Raising Safe Kids Program.
Image source: iStockPhoto