Five teenage parents sit in folding chairs at the front of the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) Community Room in New Britain. Each is the son or daughter of a teen parent; some are third generation teen parents. Several have graduated from high school; others will be graduating this year. Sitting with them are program facilitators, Jennifer and Troy. Both were themselves teen parents and now they are using their knowledge and experience to guide and mentor these students.
For the past five weeks these young parents have been participating in a communications and public speaking class at the Hospital of Central Connecticut’s Family Enrichment Center in collaboration with New Britain OIC. Jennifer Hernandez, Program Manager at the Family Enrichment Center taught the course. This is the culminating event. Their final presentations are based on a lifetime of understanding about the issues and concerns facing teen parents.
One by one each young parent stands at the microphone, introduces him or herself and eloquently speaks of the difficulties faced when juggling parenting, school and work as a teen. Not one asks for sympathy or expects others to approve of their circumstances. Instead, each voices the reality of being a teen with all of the responsibilities of an adult.
Their messages came from two places, appreciation and advocacy.
Each in their own voice expressed appreciation for the support and mentoring offered by the OIC and the Family Enrichment Center. From these programs they have found a helpful, supportive community that cares about them and cares about their children. They have learned about child development, the importance of early literacy, children’s developmental stages and behavior and the value of good nutritional habits. Several spoke of New Britain’s low third grade reading scores and the connection between their own responsibility as parent and the success of their children. The awareness of how their actions impact the well being of their children is far beyond that of a typical teenager.
There was also a call to the audience to advocate for needed supports, especially quality childcare for parents who need to complete their education. Without childcare, none of these young parents would have the ability to complete their high school education. Of course, without high school it is nearly impossible to secure employment that would support a family.
As each parents spoke, it became clear that the experiences these teens have had with adults have not always been positive. They explained the pain when educators and other adults in their lives do not understand their situation. Whether through comments, actions or just expressions, all of these students have experienced the sting of being judged by adults. Several parents asked that training be provided for educators, focusing on the circumstances of becoming and being a teen parent. They hope that this education for school staff would lead to a greater understanding of their situation.
Through it all they show resilience. What is clear is how much they love their children and how committed they are to ending the generational cycle of teen pregnancy in their family. They have dreams for their futures and the future of their children.
As parents, educators and advocates, it is our responsibility to listen to their voices, understand their circumstances and provide direction and hope.
In their own Words:
“We must end the cycle of teen pregnancy and take the path less traveled. “
“When I graduate I want to go to art school.”
“We as parents must learn the proper way to take care of ourselves and our children.”
I want to go to college to learn to work with young children.”
“I want to be a beautician. That is my dream”
“Just because we have a hard time juggling between parenting , going to school, working... it doesn't mean we are being lazy."
In the words of Jennifer Hernandez:
"What I would want others to understand is that once our teen parents have decided to parent, the discussion, the interactions…. need to promote success. There is no turning back. The decision has been made and we as a society need to support encourage and motivate these young people to be all they can be. Continuing to place our values, thoughts and beliefs about the morality of teen parenting is senseless once the child is here. I am not saying to promote teen parenting, I am saying once the decision is made they are not only teens; they are parents who are parenting our future."
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