Research Roundup: Exploring the Worlds of Adolescent Fathers

A young father and his son.

Teen fathers have complicated lives, are often misunderstood and underserved by social service providers, and have been less studied than young moms. So says the father-son team of Mark and Andrew Kiselica (of Iona College and University of South Florida, respectively) writing last year in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

In their article, the researchers review existing literature and delve into a number of questions: Who become teen dads? Are there programs that work to get young fathers involved in the lives of their partners and children and prevent them from having additional children too soon? What will it take to better address the needs of young men with children?

Kiselica and Kiselica say young fathers have not always gotten the help they needed because programs for teen parents have typically focused on teen moms. Other programs, they say, have focused on young dads’ shortcomings (their failure to pay child support, for example). Or fathers’ fear that by participating in programs, they’ll cause their partners to lose federal benefits.

Over the past several decades, researchers have evaluated a number of programs designed for young fathers and found good outcomes regarding education, employment, knowledge of birth control, and other factors. But, Kiselica and Kiselica write, the evaluations used father’s own reports of their outcomes and in most cases did not use a control group. More rigorous studies are needed, the authors say, if we want to make a difference for young men and their families.

[Read “Reality Shows Contributed to Decline in Teen Childbearing—but Other Factors Also Played a Role”]

Teen Dads Are Parents, Too

Kiselica and Kiselica’s article is followed by commentaries that highlight aspects of their argument, including the need to change attitudes toward young fathers and create more effective policies to support them.

Jennifer Bellamy and Aaron Banman of the University of Chicago argue that many of the best “parenting” programs were actually tested on and developed for mothers. These programs don’t have the same benefits for dads, they say, who also tend not to participate in them. But Bellamy and Banman argue that developing parenting programs that are more tailored to young men isn’t the only approach to take. The authors say social service providers could also make changes that may make programs more successful for fathers, and make fathers more likely to participate.

For example, they say some parenting program providers are biased against young fathers and don’t understand them. Training workers to empathize with fathers could make a difference, they say. Likewise, they say, programs could use motivational interviewing or other techniques to encourage young dads to use services or help them overcome negative experiences they’ve had with service systems in the past. Programs could also use some of the strategies that have been successful at getting young moms to use services, such as scheduling programming at convenient times and places and using incentives like food and child care.

[Get six tips for connecting with pregnant and parenting teens]

Commenter Annie Devault of Université du Québec en Outaouais focuses on the need to build trust between teen fathers and service providers. Devault writes that her own research on teen dads has uncovered some of the qualities they look for in a good relationship with service providers. She writes:

Our preliminary results revealed that what fathers underline as being helpful on the part of the practitioner is when the practitioner takes enough time to get to know them and to understand their point of view. In other words, it is most helpful when they feel recognized instead of judged.

Other researchers, she says, have found that fathers want child welfare professionals to trust them and say so, to listen to them and not just to their children’s mothers, and to be asked their opinions about services for their children.

In the end, Devault says, the support and empathy that young fathers want and need is not that different from what young moms want and need. Social service workers who get to know young parents and understand what they want for themselves and their children, she says, are on the right track toward building a successful, trusting relationship.

Practitioners Chen and Dora Chase Oren, who counsel teen fathers, also comment, saying Kiselica and Kiselica’s article may be a seminal work. Its conclusions and recommendations, Oren and Oren say, should be shared widely with mental health and social service providers who may come in contact with teen fathers.

Read the Articles

“The Complicated Worlds of Adolescent Fathers: Implications for Clinical Practice, Public Policy, and Research” (abstract). By Mark S. Kiselica and Andrew M. Kiselica. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, vol. 15, no. 3 (July 2014).

“Advancing Research on Services for Adolescent Fathers: A Commentary on Kiselica and Kiselica” (abstract). By Jennifer M. Bellamy and Aaron Banman. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, vol. 15, no. 3 (July 2014).

“Commentary on the Complicated Worlds of Adolescent Fathers: Implications for Clinical Practice, Public Policy, and Research” (abstract). By Annie Devault. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, vol. 15, no. 3 (July 2014).

“Teen Fathers: Can We Really Bridge the Gap?" (abstract). By Chen Z. Oren and Dora Chase Oren. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, vol. 15, no. 3 (July 2014).

“Improving Attitudes, Services, and Policies Regarding Adolescent Fathers: An Affirming Rejoinder” (abstract). By Andrew M. Kiselica and Mark S. Kiselica. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, vol. 15, no. 3 (July 2014).

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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