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Teenage parent study challenges stereotypes

Teenage parents are often derided as ignorant, feckless and the scourge of society by politicians and commentators in the media - but a Bradford Professor dismisses this stereotype in a new report.

Simon Duncan, Professor of Comparative Social Policy at the University of Bradford, has recently published a report for Bradford’s Teenage Pregnancy Team entitled ‘Listening to Young Mothers and Fathers’ in which he and his co-authors present the findings from interviews with eight teenage parents in the City.

The research, which was supported by Bradford Metropolitan District Council, looks at how a group of young mothers and fathers in the city understand and experience parenting, and how they see this as combining with employment, education and childcare.

The findings fly in the face of accepted opinion and suggest young parents can benefit from the experience of having children, with some becoming more motivated to achieve better than childless individuals from the same social background.

Professor Duncan explained: “Teenage parenthood is typically depicted as a calamity for individual young women and as a severe problem for society.

“The government’s Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) produced a report in 1999 stating that teenage pregnancy was, by and large, down to low expectations and ignorance, with many teenagers lacking accurate knowledge about contraception, what to expect in relationships and what it means to be a parent. Our evidence does not support this.

“Recent studies show that age of pregnancy has little effect on future qualifications, employment or income level. Indeed, research indicates that teenage mothers often do better than their social peers. This appears to be because young mothers can find that motherhood makes them feel stronger, more competent and more connected.

“We also found motherhood could provide women with the impetus to change direction, or build on existing resources – taking up education, training and employment.

“Similarly, it seems that teenage fathers often want to be good fathers, to be actively involved in childcare and find fathering a positive turning point in their lives.”

Highlights from the report

Some mothers who took part in the survey spoke about the generational effect, saying that it was older people who generally held negative views about them.

Nicole was 18-years-old when she was interviewed and had a nine-month-old baby at the time. She said: “Older people might have stereotypical views about teenage parents . . . but I don’t think that there is a problem as long as you look after your child.”

Shamina, 20-years-old at the time of interview with a nine-month-old baby, said: “It doesn’t really matter if you are young or old . . . it doesn’t really matter about age, but your life does change, it does get really busy.”

Steffi, who was 21 with a three-year-old at the time of interview, blamed popular culture and the media for the negative views, pointing the finger at television programmes like Little Britain. She said: “There’s been speculation and people are getting pregnant younger and younger every day . . . so there’s something wrong with that!? I mean Vicky Pollard, look how she’s portrayed!”

All the parents were asked whether they would consider pursuing further education and training in the foreseeable future. Three mothers interviewed all had immediate plans to return to education or training to gain further qualifications in order to better their job prospects, feeling that their children were now old enough for them to do so.

Susie, 18-years-old at interview with a two-year-old child, said: “I’m looking forward to going back to college and I’m looking to enrol next semester. I need to get on in life so that means I need to go back to college and get some qualifications – for my own self-respect.

“Its going to be very, very difficult but I’m determined. I can’t just stay at home every day, 24/7, looking after my daughter. She’s growing up . . . so I have got to look into the future for my own self worth.”

Informal support from partners and relatives, especially their children’s grandmothers, was crucial for the mothers. Because of this, the research found a major difference between the experiences of the mothers who lived in areas where they had grown up, and had family and friends living nearby, and those who had been housed by the Council somewhere else in Bradford.

The latter group were unhappy with their housing, were much more likely to have negative attitudes about their neighbourhood, and found it more difficult to use the informal support from relatives which was so important to them.

Emma Banks | alfa
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