National Post

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Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Teen fathers belie stereotype, study finds
Most want to be involved with their children
Stewart Bell
National Post

One of the first comprehensive studies of teen fathers says that despite their reputation as irresponsible, young dads actually want to be involved with their children but face impediments to fulfilling the responsibilities of fatherhood.

The University of Manitoba study, to be released today, found that angry parents, combined with government programs that focus only on the plight of teen mothers, are preventing adolescent fathers from assuming their paternal role.

The result is a class of fathers who are eager to be involved with their children but are either not allowed or not capable -- even though research shows children need both parents, and mothers need the emotional support of a partner.

"People tend to negatively stereotype teenage fathers and tend to dismiss their actions as irresponsible and just having fun at girls' expense," said Merle Jones, a nurse at Women's Hospital in Winnipeg, who conducted the research for her Master's thesis.

"But most want to be involved in raising their children. It's just that they are never given the same opportunities presented to teenage mothers through prenatal and other programs ... and in many cases, boys are prevented from becoming involved with their children because of hostility from the girls' parents."

Ms. Jones said her research grew out of her observations while working at an adolescent pre-natal clinic in Manitoba, which has one of Canada's highest teen pregnancy rates. She said time and again teen fathers were keen to be parents but were not encouraged or helped.

The study also found that more than half of teen dads were raised only by their mothers.

"It's not surprising the boys didn't understand their role as fathers," Ms. Jones said. One consequence can be child abuse, she said.

"Teenage fathers may expect more involvement in their children's lives and may get frustrated when their experiences do not live up to their expectations," Ms. Jones said. "The infant child may be seen as the cause of the frustration, leading to disastrous consequences."

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