Challenges Young Fathers Face

Work With Dads

Challenges Young Fathers Face

“Young males who become fathers while still in their teens are faced with the choice of either avoiding paternal responsibilities or attempting to face such responsibilities at the same time as they cope with the developmental tasks of adolescence, school completion, and labor market entry.” 4

While they face the same demands as all new fathers—to support the mother and baby—young fathers in their teens and early twenties face additional demands as they move from adolescence into adulthood. They may not have finished high school, and they often are not married or even living with the mother of their child. They also may feel excluded from the father role by the mother or the mother’s parents. In some cases, a young father’s own parents may try to discourage him from being involved due to financial or other concerns. In addition, these challenges have been compounded since the mid-1970s by structural changes in the economy, which have led to declining wages and reduced job opportunities for young men, particularly low-income minority men with limited schooling.5

A review of research in the 1980s showed that teenage fathers and mothers at that time often had unrealistic childrearing attitudes and a misunderstanding of children’s developmental milestones, such as when they should begin walking, talking, or toilet training. Young parents also tended to be emotionally and intellectually unprepared for parenthood and showed impatience and intolerance, which often leads to physical means of disciplining children.6

A 2002 study with fathers aged 17–23 indicated that the most important factor predicting their post-natal involvement was the quality of the relationship with their partner during pregnancy. Although couples were overwhelmingly positive about their relationship during the pregnancy, younger fathers were less likely to be significantly involved with their children within nine months of the birth. While 76 percent of fathers aged 22–23 were very involved, this was true for only 20 percent of 17-year-olds.7

Similarly, a 2013 study concluded that many young fathers:

  • Are coping with complex identity changes.
  • Experience significant financial hardship.
  • Require legal advice to maintain contact with their child.
  • Benefit from relationship support to maintain contact with the mother.
  • Need parenting advice as much as mothers, but tailored to a male audience.8

The Transition to Fatherhood in Young Men

Findings from Research Conducted by the University of Bristol 9

  • Parents of young fathers and mothers were often ambivalent about the pregnancy, and one-third of the new maternal and paternal grandparents responded negatively when the news was first broken to them.
  • Interviews with young men at about five months into the pregnancy showed that 71 percent felt positively about the pregnancy, but 66 percent had no clear image of themselves as fathers.
  • The vast majority of couples said they were generally compatible, moderately to highly committed, and that their relationship had a moderate to high level of stability.
  • Young men often felt excluded from involvement with pre- and post-natal care by health service professionals.
  • Health care professionals often knew little about the fathers, did not see them as central to their task, and felt they lacked the skills to engage with men.
  • Nine months after the birth of their child, 69 percent of couples were living together, while 37 percent of men were not significantly involved as fathers.

Despite these challenges, most young fathers are involved in the lives of their children during the first 2–3 years of their child’s life, but the majority become less involved as their children get older, which can have a negative effect on their children. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study of unwed parents, many of whom were under the age of 26, showed that half of the parents were living together at the time of their child’s birth and another third were living apart but romantically involved. However, five years later only a third of parents were still romantically involved and 50 percent of the non-resident fathers had little to no contact with their children. 10

This decreasing involvement is likely the result of a complicated mix of personal, relationship, community, societal, and public policy issues.