Tips for parents to deal with teenage pregnancy

I’m an emotional wreck! Advice for parents on dealing with the initial shock of teenage pregnancy

Understandably, emotions are probably at an all-time high, Yes, there are some problematic discussions to have and tough decisions to make, but you will have to manage your anger or disappointment. It’s vital to remember that this isn’t the end of the world and that your daughter’s life isn’t over. She can still reach her full potential.

Over and above the emotional issues, South African legal insurance firm Law For All has advice from a legal perspective for families who face this issue.

According to the Parent Centre, a South African organisation which aims to help children through positive parenting, it’s best to process emotions with your significant other, friends or a therapist.

Put your child first because the effects of teenage pregnancy on the mother can be a lot to deal with. Hear her out, don’t judge her, be a shoulder to cry on and give guidance, and make sure she sees a medical professional ASAP to get the right medical care. What are the legal options when it comes to teenage pregnancy in SA?

After learning that your daughter is pregnant and dealing with the emotional aftermath, you and your child might be having “what now?” moments and thinking about the future.

But to curb the confusion, helplessness and to ensure she doesn’t make any big decisions lightly, “it’s essential to learn about her legal rights and keep in mind that she does have options,” Law For All managing director advocate Jackie Nagtegaal said.

1. Keeping the baby

If your daughter decides she wants to be a mother, you will have to put your personal beliefs aside and continue protecting your daughter’s Constitutional rights, which include the rights to health care and basic education.

According to Nagtegaal, a child having a child does not make her an adult, and you are still their legal guardians, which means you are still responsible for upholding their legal rights. Also, get ready to be doting grandparents!

Encourage your daughter to see a therapist who can help her navigate the emotional and physical challenges of carrying out a pregnancy. There is also the option to sign her up for a pregnancy series, like The Parent Centre’s Teen Parenting programme.

"If your daughter knows her child’s dad, it’s best to contact him and his family to discuss a way forward. That way, the financial burden of raising a child doesn’t fall on your family alone. Both parents must pay maintenance, and if they can’t, the grandparents will have to chip in".

Naturally, there will be some added financial strain with regular medical check-ups, the actual delivery and buying all the necessary items for the baby after birth.

Having the father involved in his baby’s life from the get-go is usually in a child’s best interest. Unfortunately, widespread ideas of “dead-beat dads” often mean teen fathers are not told about their children.

But research by academic scholars Sphiwe Madiba and Carol Nsiki showed “most teen fathers desired to be good fathers and tried to fulfil their perceived fatherhood roles”.

And should a teen dad decide to take responsibility, contribute to the baby’s upbringing and embrace fatherhood, he will then have full parental rights as well, unless a court says otherwise.

2. Putting the baby up for adoption

In recent years, there has been a sharp decline in adoptions in SA, but giving up the baby for adoption is still a viable option. If your daughter decides to go this route, it’s a good idea to consult a therapist or an accredited social worker to guide your family through the process.

It might feel like the right decision, but it’s still a big one!

“Your teen will have to give written permission to put the baby up for adoption, and you will also have to sign off on her decision,” Nagtegaal advised.

“Of course, she can change her mind and withdraw consent within 60 days of signing the paperwork. Remember, if you know who the dad is and you know how to get in touch with him, you will have to tell him about the potential adoption.

“The law gives the father the option to challenge the process or adopt the baby himself,” Nagtegaal said.

3. Having an abortion in SA

“Abortion” is a scary word that carries a lot of stigma and invokes various emotional viewpoints.

In SA, it is indeed legal for a teen mother to get an abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Getting an abortion at a later stage in the pregnancy is also possible, but only if the mother or baby’s health is in danger.

Choosing to terminate a pregnancy requires a lot of thought and sensitivity. Of course, it’s an invasive and potentially traumatic experience for anyone, so hesitation is entirely understandable.

Once again, extensive counselling is recommended.

Keep in mind that pregnant teenagers do not need their parents’ consent to get an abortion.

All the more reason for you to be open and compassionate from the get-go since it’s best for your child to feel loved and supported, should she decide that this is best for her.

Your daughter has the right to a safe abortion carried out by a qualified medical practitioner. This can be done medically (with an abortion pill) or surgically.

The physical recovery period is within a couple of weeks, but the emotional healing could take much longer. 4. Teen moms and attending school in SA

Your daughter might be embarrassed by falling pregnant and scared of being mocked by her peers. But, of course, a good education is essential for her and her baby’s financial future.

What more, legally speaking, pregnancy does not mean a child’s basic right to education disappears, and they cannot be denied access to schooling.

Schools are not allowed to discriminate against pregnant pupils by suspending or expelling them or even by denying them to write exams. Pupils can also not be prohibited from returning to school after giving birth.

The best way to deal with your pregnant teen returning to school is to set up a meeting with the principal to discuss the way forward and get clarity on:

• How long your daughter can remain in school before needing to take time off to deliver the baby;

• When, realistically, your child will be allowed to return to school after giving birth;

• Whether the teachers can formulate a catch-up plan for the work she misses;

• The possibility of sending homework while your child is at home.

It’s important to get this meeting recorded and the agreement signed by everyone involved. 5. Protect your child’s future

Dealing with teenage pregnancy is complicated and emotionally taxing, without a doubt. But being a parent means doing what you can to protect and empower your child, and part of that is knowing how the law is on your side.

If parents don’t feel powerless, it will give children hope and motivation to carry on and reach their potential.