In Shelby County, 15% of all children are born to teenage mothers.1 These children face many obstacles in their early years in part because their mothers (and fathers) are not well prepared to be parents. Teen parents tend to be less knowledgeable about early brain development, child development and less skilled parents.2,3 In contrast to older parents, teen parents often use more punitive parenting styles and have fewer positive interactions, such as smiling at and playing with their children.3
Further, poverty, lack of maternal education, and insufficient social support place these families at great risk for poor outcomes;2 however, participating in programs designed for teen parents can mitigate some of the risks and help foster early development in their young children. Research suggests that the best programs help teen mothers go back to school, include the children’s fathers, and provide additional social support.2,4 Among other benefits, social support has been shown to improve teen parents’ competence, increasing their sensitivity to their baby as well as reducing harsh parenting behaviors.4 Additionally, having active listeners and positive role models enhance teen mothers’ ambitions3 and self-esteem, and improves their overall psychological health.4 Finally, having good social support during pregnancy or while parenting can serve as a buffer against life stressors that inevitably occur.2,4
The Exchange Club Family Center’s “First S.T.E.P.S.” program is designed specifically for disadvantaged, first-time mothers ages 12 to 19. The children’s fathers are also encouraged to take part in this program, which is intended to improve parenting skills and reduce the risk for child abuse or neglect. “First S.T.E.P.S.” helps build a strong base for the children of Memphis teens both by educating their parents AND by expanding their parents’ social support.
Starting during the mothers’ pregnancies, “First S.T.E.P.S.” parents participate in a parenting and life-skills class focusing on prenatal care, effective parenting skills, family planning, job readiness, and anger management in addition to teaching them other life skills. After completing this 10-week class, parents are encouraged to take part in a monthly teen parenting support group. Further, First S.T.E.P.S. pairs each teen mother with a Parent Aide for up to 12 months. This person is knowledgeable about parenting and early childhood development, and serves as a role model and mentor for the mothers. They actively support the families by helping them manage daily needs as well as providing emotional support. With 85% of Shelby County’s teen mothers earning less than $15,000 a year and 50% of them not receiving prenatal care,1 a program such as this can help alleviate many of the problems associated with teens raising children.
For more information about First S.T.E.P.S., go to www.exchangeclub.net or contact Erma Simpson, the Program Coordinator, at 901-276-2200.
THE TAKE AWAY: Children of teen parents are particularly vulnerable to suffering poor futures, in part because their parents have limited resources and skills to provide for themselves and their children. The Exchange Club Family Center’s “First S.T.E.P.S.” is one local program designed to protect children from these futures. It provides services for teen parents consistent with research recommendations and the Memphis community needs.