Tuesday, August 3, 2010

MTV -- Where are the Teen Dads?

It’s back…”Teen Mom” on MTV. From a channel that also produces Jersey Shores and The Real World, this show deals with issues that have depth and range. That and it doesn’t include the words “Snookie” or night vision footage of adults playing under covers (Thank you, MTV!). The show does offer viewers a glimpse into the hard world of teen mothers, but something is missing. MTV, where is Teen DAD? Why isn’t the show called “Teen Parents”?

We occasionally see the fathers on the show with the “Teen Moms”, and sure, some of them are present in the stories, even though they aren’t the main characters. But that’s the problem. Why aren’t they one of the main characters, especially since this is “real life”? The fathers of the “cute as a button” children on this show are remarkably absent or neglectful. Ryan doesn’t have a job and can’t pay child support, Gary is always out spending the money he has made to provide for his family and worked hard to make, and Farrah’s child doesn’t have any contact with her father what so ever. Recent research tells us teen fathers want to be more involved in the upbringing of their children, so why are so many teen fathers not pulling their weight with the whole child rearing business?

A study conducted by the Ford Foundation found that many teen fathers are eager to help raise their children; however they are often overlooked by many of the agencies offering help to teen mothers and their children. Teen fathers need the same amount of support and encouragement, but are often the “invisible partner” for a majority of services offered. Many times, because of the trend of absentee fathers in past generations, these new teen fathers don’t have an idea of what a father is supposed to be. They lacked a father themselves, so it is very possible teen fathers need even more support to be present in their children’s lives, because they have no notion of what their role entails. The teen fathers of today deal with doubts about their ability to provide for their family, insecurities about parenting children, and a lack of education because of the high drop-out rates of teen parents. All of these issues are being addressed with the mothers, but if the parenting split is supposed to be 50/50, why is the assistance and encouragement split, 80/20?

The statistics show that having no father present in the lives of children can lead to a myriad of different issues, including that children in fatherless homes are five times more likely to live in poverty, twice as likely to drop out of school, and double the risk of living with emotional or physical abuse (National Fatherhood Initiative). These factors can also be found in what contributes to a teen being at risk for unplanned pregnancy. Teen fathers want the same for their children as any fathers do, they want for their children the best.  Unless we start giving help to the fathers along with the mothers, it will be a longer and harder road to make fathers a constant in children’s lives again and changing the landscape for young people in the future.

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