Summary of the paper “Essential components of a mentoring program for pregnant and parenting teens,” by Dennise Wilsherl Rowen, Mary Shaw-Perry, and Robin Rager (June 2005).
Research on teen pregnancy and parenthood indicates that teens are unprepared for parenting, and are likely to struggle socially and economically due to limited education and employment opportunities. A formative research study conducted focus groups at an alternative school of choice in an urban school district to explore teen perceptions and beliefs about pregnancy and parenting. This paper reviews the literature and formative research findings describing pregnant and parenting teens’ expressed needs for support and mentoring programs. The review explains the essential components of mentoring programs the teens believe would help them become successful young women and good parents.
Based on focus groups of teen parents (7th-11th grades) at New Lives, an alternative school in Texas, the following components were deemed important in establishing mentoring programs for teen parents:
- Parental guidance and support from the teens’s parents: Parental guidance and support are critical in a teen’s life. If teens do not get what they need from parents, they may be more likely to place “undue value on a dating relationship” so they “seek love and attention from other sources” including those that aren’t positive and to participate in unsafe behaviors, like high-risk sexual activities, seeking male attention and acceptance, and attempting to cement a relationship and begin a new family by becoming pregnant. Mentoring programs for teen moms should attempt to reach out to and include parents or parental figures such as close family members or godparents:
- Communication and skills training: Mentoring programs to support teen moms should encourage open, non-judgemental, two-way communication between parents and their teens.
- Roles and responsibilities of the parents of teen moms: Mentoring programs should (could) offer joint counseling sessions to solve problems together and improve parent-teen relationships. Suggestions for parents of teens include visiting the doctor with them; assisting them in maintaining a healthy lifestyle; continuously encourage their teens to stay in school by offering support like childcare, help with school work, and financial assistance when necessary, while also encouraging them to develop educational and career plans necessary to achieve future goals.
- Spiritual guidance: Teens at the New Life focus groups in Texas indicated a desire to have a close relationship with God, and wanted their respective churches to love and accept them. Faith-based mentoring programs conversely have shown to be effective in breaking the cycle of teens having children. (Children of teenage parents are more likely to become teen parents themselves.)
- Parenting classes for teen moms: Classes should address topics including:
- proper childcare techniques,
- methods of effective communication between parent and child,
- first aid/emergencies,
- basics about infant healthcare,
- and the importance of being a positive role model.
- Personal growth & development classes: Classes should help teens identify and build on their strengths, and to develop action plans to achieve short and long term goals. Classes can help teen moms develop positive self-esteem. (Lack of self esteem plays a major role in teen pregnancy.) Topics could include:
- Financial planning
- Job search, resume writing, interviewing skills
- Dressing for success
- Preparing for college
- Building self-esteem
- Peer support groups: Spending time with other teen moms can provide emotional and social support to pregnant and parenting teenage girls, allow them to share positive parenting techniques, and to encourage each other through rough times. “With peer support in place, teens learn from each other. Information is more readily received, processed, and acted upon when delivered by peers….Teens are more apt to accept advice when it comes from another teen than from an older adult or parent.”
The authors say, “Programs that respond to these needs likely will be effective in helping pregnant and parenting teens develop the assets necessary to become successful and productive citizens in society.”
- Pregnant and parenting teens want to be involved in developing the criteria for selecting mentors.
- The teens expressed several reasons for wanting a mentor:
- having someone to talk with
- having someone to confide in without being judged or penalized for past actions
- having one-on-one guidance from someone who has experienced pregnancy as a teen
- having someone who can provide realistic advice to help the teens become successful parents
- having someone to provide positive suggestions on how to reach their own goals and dreams
- Qualified mentors can provide great assistance in helping girls transition to teen life to motherhood, and to become successful individuals in society
- Mentors are “indispensable” in assisting pregnant and parenting teens in locating and utilizing community resources.
- Mentors should be included in the planning and implementation phases of programs designed to assist pregnant and parenting teens; most successful programs include all their stakeholders in program planning.
Do you have other ideas about what to include in a teen moms mentoring group? Please leave a comment, including your experience as a teen parent or with teen parents.