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Diahanne Rhiney's picture
Diahanne Rhiney
First time parents can find it a scary experience

WHILE PARENTING might sometimes seem overwhelming for the most seasoned parents, it can be a scary experience for first-time parents, especially teenage mothers.

Parenting definitely does not come with a manual on how to do everything from birth through to adulthood. Any parents, especially a teenage one would be asking themselves "am I doing this right?" It has been suggested that compulsory parenting classes should be offered to younger mothers in a bid to tackle rising levels of child obesity, crime, mental distress and underachievement.

In America compulsory parenting classes as part of the school curriculum has shown to provide a significant benefit to students, as sadly, not all students are exposed to important aspects of good parenting.

Even though the number of teenage pregnancies in the UK has continued to fall, the latest figures in 2014 from the office for National Statistics data show the under-18 conception rate is the lowest since 1969 at 27.9 conceptions per 1,000 women aged 15-17.

This is a drop of 10 per cent on the previous year, but experts say it is not enough to bring the UK in line with other western European countries. Britain still has the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Europe and they cost the country about £63m a year.

Many young girls even see having a baby as a better option than a low-paid "dead-end" job. Teenage pregnancy is seen as a serious social problem. According to the above figures three in 10 teenage girls become pregnant before the age of 20. Many of these pregnancies end in abortion or adoption.

But with 40,000 teenagers giving birth in Britain every year teenage girls who do decide to keep their babies face many challenges. Although less is known about teen fathers, research indicates that they too face problems associated with being parents. So what is the reality of having a baby so young? What challenges do such young mothers face and how do they cope?

Teenage mothers face unique problems that many adult mothers do not. Teenage pregnancy and parenting often interferes with education, social opportunities and employment options leaving adolescent parents facing a range of problems.

They are often from very deprived backgrounds; they can experience a range of mental health problems and a lack of social support; they often lack knowledge about child development and effective parenting skills, and they have developmental needs of their own.

Teenage parents often find that caring for a child makes it difficult for them to continue their education. More than half of teenage mothers never complete secondary education and fewer will graduate from university. Lack of education makes it more difficult for young mothers to find and keep well-paying jobs leading more than 75 per cent to end up on social security benefits within five years of having their first baby. Teenage mothers are also often isolated. While their friends go out, party, shop and play, these mothers are at home. Babysitters are expensive and going out socialising and partying is not a priority.

In addition, Teenage mothers are more likely to have a low birth weight or a premature baby, which may involve health risks or complications. Furthermore, fussy or active children can place further strains on parenting skills.

When the children become older, parenting offers further challenges as a young parent struggles to find the balance between friendship and being a parent. Striving to be a cool, hip mom that your teenager can relate to can definitely have its benefits.

Though being close to your child can be very beneficial through teenage years, it can also backfire. A friend-mother may avoid confronting or punishing a child because she wants to maintain the friendship. In other words, you may become too soft when it comes to discipline. In some instances, the mother may also discourage the teenager from having friends her own age, taking risks and experiencing new things.

It has been suggested that in order to combat these challenges compulsory parenting classes should be offered to teenage mothers. So why does the idea of parenting classes divide opinion as surely we all need parenting lessons from time to time?

Teaching people how to be good parents is relatively new in this country, but there is still a stigma that associates parenting courses as something opposed on bad parents especially as these programs are usually targeted at parents who are considered high-risk for child neglect or abuse. In some cases, there is a history of domestic violence or substance abuse on the part of the parents. Although some of these programs have been in place for decades, researchers are still trying to determine if parenting classes work.

There are now many types of parenting classes available in the UK covering topics from managing money, first aid to how to be an emotionally intelligent parent. These courses are available to all parents and do not dictate how a parent should raise a child. These courses provide the tools, skills and strategies that make life as a parent or carer both easier and more fulfilling.

Surely all parents could benefit from understanding their child’s temperament and assistance in defining family values should they want to. Perhaps the key aspect is to make teenage parents aware that such courses exist and with guidance they will then be able to make an informed decision.

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