Allowing Teen Parents the Safe Space to Share Parenting Challenges

Gina Desiderio

Several months ago, Glennon Melton’s blog post, “Don’t Carpe Diem,” was making the rounds on social media, with frequent reposts and shares on Facebook and Twitter. Many of my fellow parent friends were sharing the link, recognizing the truth in her argument. Melton notes that parents of young children are often told to cherish the moment—“carpe diem”—while their children are young because they grow up so fast…and yet it’s often hard to cherish the moment when your toddler is kicking and screaming on the floor of the grocery store, and you’re just trying to pay and get out of the store. As a parent of a two year-old and a five month-old, I can see the merit in her argument; there are a lot of good times when your children are this young, but it can also be very difficult at times. Melton encourages fellow parents to release the guilt they may feel that they aren’t always seizing the day.

And while Melton’s post speaks to parents at large, I wonder how many people would feel that this attitude should also apply to teen parents. Are we as a society at large as forgiving or sympathetic when we see a teen parent who looks exhausted, juggling one or more children? I know I get smiles and reassuring looks from other parents while I’m wrangling a baby in a 25-pound infant seat and an independent toddler wanting to run through a parking lot. When I’m grocery shopping with a baby strapped on and a toddler in the car, I frequently get comments, accompanied by a smile and friendly face, about how I have my hands full.

But would a teen parent get the same comforting looks? Do we recognize that it’s hard at times to be a parent, and all parents deserve a break? Or are we more judgmental? Do we place higher standards for teen parents because their pregnancy was unplanned and they are still a teen?

Certainly, we at Healthy Teen Network believe that in order to be prepared to fully participate in modern life, adolescents and young adults need generous opportunities to pursue education and other enrichments—opportunities which are enhanced by delaying and spacing childbearing. However, once a teen makes the choice to parent, we also believe that with caring support and resources, adolescents and young adults can be effective parents and successful adults.

The support part is important. All parents need support, and that includes the permission not to always carpe diem. It is supportive to allow teen parents the space to share the frustrations of parenthood, to hear similar stories of parenting challenges, with fellow parents, teen or otherwise. Just the comforting face shared while dealing with a toddler meltdown can help make a parent feel not quite so alone…or at least not so embarrassed. If a 20- or 30- or 40-something parent needs support and an opportunity to vent, doesn’t it follow that a teen parent also needs the same safe space, maybe even more so, given where s/he may be, developmentally?

Allowing teen parents the opportunity to vent these frustrations, without judgment or recrimination for “getting pregnant” can help the teen to grow as a person and as a parent. The teen has decided to parent, and with it comes the joys and struggles of parenthood, and sometimes, parents—including teen parents—just don’t want to “carpe diem,” and that’s okay…to be expected, even.

How do you create a safe space for teen parents to share the joys and struggles of parenthood? How do you help teen parents deal with the judgment they often face out in the world?

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network.

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The Power of Youth: 5 Takeaways

Alia Gehr-Seloover

I was one of several scholarship recipients who attended Healthy Teen Network’s annual conference, The Power of Youth: Joining Forces to Achieve Positive Outcomes, last month in Minneapolis. This was an amazing opportunity for me to network with knowledgeable professionals from around the country who are incredibly invested in the work that they do with young people and health education.

Through the workshops and other conference events I attended, the biggest takeaways for me were:

Humorous approaches to teaching sex education can be very helpful.
Discussing sexuality education with young people can be difficult. Many people feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about sexuality and relationships from a health standpoint. By incorporating jokes, fun, and interactive activities and encouraging laughter, teens are more likely to retain the information presented.

We need to always be educating parents and families around discussing sexual health and wellness with young people.
Parents and families are often times a youth’s first contact with health education. It is crucial that parents are getting the comprehensive education that they need to be prepared to comfortably share with the children in their lives.

Advocacy on health policy topics is imperative in ensuring that health education is continually taught in schools and community efforts.
In teaching health education, we need to look at it from a variety of angles. It’s great to plan individual programming for youth, but in order for those programs to be sustained over time, we must look at the bigger picture. Health policy is where it comes together—if we don’t have policy makers on our side, then programming cannot take place.

Sex education and pregnancy prevention needs to be all inclusive.
Teen pregnancy is a systemic issue that stems from more than inadequate sex education. A core issue for sex education and pregnancy prevention is communication. We need to be discussing emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual well-being with ALL teens, including LGBTQ youth who are often times left out of the conversation.

Healthy Teen Network really is a network.
Since The Power of Youth, I have been in contact with many conference speakers and participants, sharing programming ideas and constructive feedback and learning a great deal about the valuable work that we all do to help create healthy teens, and ready parents.

Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible and to Healthy Teen Network for hosting this event!

Alia Gehr-Seloover is an AmeriCorps Volunteer—LGBTQ Health Coordinator at the Institute for Family Health in Kingston, NY

I Love it When You Say the C-word

Vanessa Geffrard

In the midst of reviewing  all the wonderful and inspiring coverage from the recent International AIDS Conference, I stumbled upon an article citing that C-word use is high among teens, 16% higher now than it was in 1991, to be exact!

WOWZERS!

What great news!

Oh, not that C- word….

I mean condoms!  I am beaming with excitement knowing that teens want to protect themselves and want access to resources that enable them to make the safest choices. Reading the article was not only inspiring for the work I am devoted to, but it also made me think about what more needs to be done for our young people when fighting HIV/AIDS and creating this AIDS Free Generation that many leaders are discussing this week.

Currently, 60% of sexually active high schoolers have used condoms the last time they had sex, up from 46% in 1991 (but down a bit from 2003). You might be asking, “Vanessa, why is this so exciting for you?” It’s amazing, awe-inspiring, and the best thing ever because the work that we do whether it be as a volunteer,  a person who likes to give out condoms to their friends, an HIV test coordinator, health teacher, artist, or educator–the work we are doing with young people is working! Something that we are doing and saying is making a difference to our young people. Someone out there is not falling asleep during your condom demos and young people are listening to us when we give them up-to-date, evidence-based resources, education, and frank conversation about their sexual lives– something so natural and something that needs to be protected.

As shown throughout the coverage of the International AIDS Conference , however, is that we have GOT to do better. We’re doing great, but we can do more in light of the CDC reporting that four of every 10 new HIV infections occurs in people younger than 30. This is still too many in our fight to create an AIDS-free generation. I believe that our efforts are working and we have to keep up the good fight. We all know the money is needed to help in the fight, but what else do we need?

I don’t have all the answers, but I offer the following as some possible approaches to add to the mix:

  • Real talk and evidence-based comprehensive education about sex and sexual health in our society. We need to teach our young people how to communicate with partners and what to do in intimate situations when it comes to protecting themselves–even if they are not yet sexually active.
  •  Condoms are not the enemy. What happened to “common” portrayals of people like TLC having condoms in their videos? (Even Snoop Dogg discussed the consequences of STIs if condoms weren’t worn with lady friends!) I may be dating myself, but I feel that the wonderful world of condoms needs to be mainstream. It is FINE for a young man or woman (gasp!) to carry condoms! We carry other paraphernalia to protect ourselves from other elements, but what about pregnancy? STIs? HIV? —Condoms are our friends here, people! And we shouldn’t stigmatize a young person when they become empowered enough to carry them and use them to protect themselves.

I could write  a book on my personal opinions, but I know you also have valuable thoughts on this important subject! What do you think?  What would you add to the mix that would help our young people make responsible sexual decisions  and encourage them to use condoms consistently and correctly?

Vanessa Geffrard is a Training and Technical Assistance Associate at Healthy Teen Network.

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