When Your Teen is Pregnant
When the words "I'm pregnant" come out of a teen's mouth, parents are often at a loss for what to do. They react emotionally, not logically, and the resulting confrontations often leave the teens alone without the support of their parents and other family members.
Your Initial Response
What should you do if your teen tells you she is pregnant?
The most important thing is to stay calm. Tracy Underwood, a licensed psychologist at Children's Medical Center of Dallas, advises that parents recognize the teen is likely to be frightened and confused and looking to Mom and Dad for guidance.
As one teen told the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, "I would like it if [parents] came out and said what they meant ... The unhelpful thing is when they start to lecture." If all else fails, ask your son or daughter to leave you with time for yourself before you react to the shock.
When you talk to your teen, be honest about your feelings. There is no point in chastising them or lecturing them; the damage is already done. But that doesn't mean you can't tell your child how disappointed you are in their behavior. Being supportive does not mean you have to be – or pretend to be – happy about the situation. Being supportive simply means that you help them through it.
Talking to Your Teen
Now that your child is in an adult situation, you'll want to treat them like an adult. When you talk to them, tell them why you feel the way you feel. Don't simply insist they use a particular option; explain your reasoning for it. Your kids may not follow your advice, but they are more likely to consider it if it comes as advice and not as an order.
Some things you should be sure to discuss with your son or daughter include the choices (abortion, adoption, parenting), finances, responsibility and your role in the situation. Tell your teen what you think of each of the options available to them, why you feel that way about each one and which option you would prefer they choose. At the same time, offer to go with them to look into each of the options so they can make informed decisions.
Talk to them about the financial issues, and be frank. Will your insurance cover the medical care? Who will be responsible for covering any extra expenses that might arise? What role will the other teen be taking in the finances? Whether they choose to parent or not, you should be aware that there are costs involved in all decisions, mainly medical and counseling.
"A plan needs to be generated," Underwood says. "Your plan of action should include – among others – finding a doctor, one who preferably works with young mothers."
Be sure to talk to your teen about what you can or will do to help out. Not all parents are willing to take on the same role. Some feel their children should be forced to accept the responsibility for their actions while others choose to shield their children as much as possible. Your options range from adopting the child yourself, allowing your child and the baby to live with you, asking them to pay room and board or simply being a full- or part-time babysitter. Your ethics and other more practical issues – like money and space – can be influences in your decisions.
Tell your child why you are willing to do what you are willing to do. Then discuss what they will have to work out. Remember they are children in an adult situation. Offer your guidance in finding a place to live, buying groceries and anything else for which they may need you.
What Not to Do
- Don't accuse them of being stupid or promiscuous – it will only cause anger and resentment.
- Don't threaten or force them to follow your decision. They might not do it and might not talk to you anymore if they feel threatened.
- Don't take it sitting down. They need to know you care enough to be upset by it.
- Don't kick them out. Statistics for teen parents and children on the street are grim. You'll regret the decision later.
- Don't play "do what I say, not what I do." Help your kids with your actions and your words.
- Don't loose your temper. What's done is done. Move on and make the most of the situation.
"Parents need to play a leading force for the child," Underwood says. "Remember, they are still a child."
What You Can Do
While you are talking to your son or daughter, there are other things you can be doing. Be sure to make the effort to meet the parents of the other teen involved and to talk about the same issues you discussed with your own teen. It may turn out that the other parents refuse to have anything to do with the situation. But you may find by meeting with them that you can come to agreements that will give your child and their child the best possible futures.
Educate yourself about teen pregnancy and the options involved. Before choosing abortion, look into the benefits and the consequences of the decision. Speak to both doctors and organizations that advise against abortion. Take the teens to visit adoption centers or lawyers. See if there is a way that your teen can talk to others who have chosen adoption. Go to places that serve pregnant teens and arrange to meet with those who have chosen to parent, and find out what they have to say. The Internet is also a great source of information on all three options.
Try to remain unbiased in your education. Learn everything you can and share it with your teens. There are nine months of pregnancy in which to make a final decision, so make sure that you have encouraged an informed decision and that everyone is prepared to handle the possible consequences of that decision. But remember: In the end, it is their decision, and there may be nothing you can do to change it.
Most importantly, get counseling. Arrange for you and your spouse to speak to a professional. If you have other children, you may want to involve them, too. Be sure that your child is seeing some kind of counselor who will address the many emotional issues involved in teen pregnancy. Encourage the other teen and the teen's family to seek a counselor or to take part in some of your sessions.
"Parents need to recognize their own fear and uncertainty and to keep it in check ... to acknowledge that it is a real thing," Underwood says.
Counseling provides a way to deal with fears and to come to grips with the situation. You can seek a counselor or therapist who does family work. You can turn to a local church for referral or you can ask a hospital how to contact your local crisis pregnancy center. All centers differ somewhat, but all are there to help pregnant teens (though some counsel others, too).
Your teen will find knowledgeable support, group events and assistance with food, money, health and more at one of these centers. They may or may not provide family counseling. If they do, consider taking part. Most municipalities will have a crisis pregnancy support group or center; it's simply a matter of locating it.
Educate Your Teen About Sex
It's never too late for sex education. The statistics aren't readily available, but an inordinate amount of teen parents have more children before they are out of their teen years and have a stable base. Whether this is because they have given up hope for success or they simply have neglected to take precautions, it remains that pregnancy doesn't always shock kids straight.
Take advantage of the new relationship this situation has fostered, and talk to your teen about having sex. Ask whether they plan to continue to have sex. Talk to them about contraception, what they did before and what they should be doing now. Be open and honest and encourage them to believe that one mistake doesn't make life a failure. Continue to be supportive of them and make it clear that they can always come to you with questions about sex now that the issue is in the open.
It is a devastating thing to find your teen has been irresponsible enough to get pregnant. But it's also a devastating thing to destroy a relationship in a few moments, or months, of anger and disappointment.
"When push comes to shove and families are not there for you, you start to feel like a failure. Then you start to act like one," says Fremor Williams, executive director of the Grimsby Life Centre. "That's terrible when you become a parent."
If you are supportive and open, your kids might make the right decisions and be more likely to look forward to a bright and hopeful future. Without you, they may be doomed to fall in among the statistics of depression, poverty, abuse, neglect and to have children with equally dim futures. Be the best parent you can be and stand by your teen – no matter what.