Teen parents have plenty of obstacles to navigate. Their kids will likely face some too.
The good news is that as a grandparent, there's a lot you can do to help.
It helps to be aware of the possible challenges your teenager may face as a parent. That way, you can help your child meet them head-on.
Challenges adolescent parents may face
Transitioning to parenthood. Becoming a parent isn't easy even when you're an adult with some experience behind you. For teens, it's even more difficult since they're not finished developing themselves. Your teen may feel isolated from and jealous of their friends. They could feel unprepared for parenthood. They might be anxious about their future.
Inexperience. Children have the greatest physical, emotional, and cognitive development during their first three years of life. This means the interactions they have with their parents and caregivers are crucial during this period. But because teen parents are young and inexperienced, they may not realize how much influence—good or bad—they have on their children's development.
Depression. Studies indicate that being a teen mother may increase the likelihood of mood disorders like depression. Young fathers are at a higher risk of becoming depressed too. This is probably partly due to factors like learning to become a parent, juggling responsibilities, and stress in relationships with family members, romantic partners, and/or friends. Stress and depression can also put adolescent parents at risk for substance use.
Repeat births. Around 17% of babies born to adolescents are repeat births. Having more than one child as a teenager can intensify the challenges of finishing school, earning enough money, and finding quality childcare. Repeat pregnancies are also associated with a higher risk of low birth weight and infant death.
Health risks of teen parenthood
Adolescent moms and their children have some unique health risks too. This is why it's so important for them both to be under the care of a pediatrician.
Research shows that pregnant teen moms are more at risk of having these complications:
High blood pressure
Poor weight gain
Low birth weight
The risks are higher for mothers under the age of 17 years. These complications also seem to be more common in teens that don't have proper prenatal care.
Children of teen parents have some higher risks too, including:
How to help
Yes, there are many challenges and risks involved with being a teenage parent. But as a grandparent, your love and support can make all the difference. Here are some ways to help your child so they can find a healthy, positive life path.
Get regular prenatal care
Seeing an obstetrician regularly helps both mother and baby stay healthy. It also lessens the risk for labor and delivery complications.
Watch out for signs of tobacco use, drinking, or taking drugs. Using any of these can harm the baby. Let your child's obstetrician know if you think these might be a problem.
Find parenting classes
It's a good idea to start classes during pregnancy so your child can learn how to take care of a baby before it arrives. Getting educated will also help your child manage the transition to parenthood more smoothly. And because parent-child interactions are so important, especially during the first three years, keeping up these classes benefits everyone.
Encourage your child to get a high school diploma and then a trade school or college degree. This will give your child confidence and help them support their child.
Look into contraceptive education
Because teen moms are at a high risk of getting pregnant again, it's important that they know about their contraceptive options. For instance, they can have an intrauterine device (IUD) or implant placed right after birth. This helps reduce the likelihood of a repeat pregnancy during adolescence. Both the IUD and the implant last for years (depending on the type) and are completely reversible.
Breast milk is the best nutrition for babies. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that moms of any age exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. After that, it's best to keep breastfeeding along with introducing other foods until the baby is at least one year old. Not only does breastfeeding help mothers bond with their babies, but it also promotes cognitive development.
Breastfeeding classes and support help adolescent mothers breastfeed longer. Check with your child's pediatrician or obstetrician about breastfeeding resources like a lactation consultant.
Get involved with childcare
You and your child (and possibly the other parent and grandparents) will need to sort through how much of a role you will play in caring for your grandchild. You may need to get a social worker or counselor to help with this.
Don't be afraid to step in and help parent your grandchild if that works for your family. Studies show that coparenting, which usually involves maternal grandmothers, can have positive effects on both children and grandchildren. This is especially true if you and your child have minimal conflict. The less conflict there is, the more positive the coparenting experience is for everyone.
Promote positive parent-child relationships
No matter how you feel about your grandchild's other parent, remember that positive parent-child relationships are critical for healthy child development. For your grandchild's sake, try to encourage and support the other parent's role.
Research shows that when fathers engage with their children, they positively influence their kids' behavior, intellect, and mental well-being. Kids of teen moms who stay close with their biological father do better in school and at work. They're also less depressed, and their risk of becoming teen parents themselves is lower.
Even when fathers can't help support the baby financially, they can support them emotionally and physically. And the sooner they gets actively involved with their child, the more likely it is that they'll stay involved.
Encourage play and reading time
One of the best things young parents can do with their children is to play with them and read to them. Both of these activities promote bonding and boost young kids' social and cognitive development.
Visit your local library and check out Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which mails a free book every month to children from birth to age five, regardless of income.
Connect with community programs
There are many government and community programs and resources out there designed to help parents and young children, such as:
Home visiting programs
Nurse home visitation programs
Job training programs
Tuition and childcare assistance
Parenting and child development classes
What's available depends on where you live. Check with your city, county, or state department of social services to start with. Your child's school may be another potential resource. It's possible you'll need to find services from a variety of government and private resources, such as:
Helping your child access these services can ease many of their burdens and paves the road to their success as a parent.