Decreasing Sex Bias through Education for Parenthood or Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy: A Developmental Model with Integrative Strategies

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Unintended adolescent pregnancy and parenthood are among the more insidious problems of society today. Many types of services including advocacy, education, and prevention that emphasize birth control and prenatal care have been developed in response to this problem. However, in general, these services address only the needs of teenage females (Foster & Miller, 1980; Leashore, 1979).

The advantages of offering services for women are obvious, and much of the research demonstrates better outcomes for women who use them effectively. What has not been well studied are the effects of teenage pregnancy and parenthood on the young father, and the value that education and services might have if they were as available to teenage males (Chilman, 1980; Earls & Siegel, 1980).

Most young women grow up with consistent societal messages and experiences that reinforce the importance of learning skills for the role of motherhood. Even today, when options for careers have expanded so dramatically for women, the early messages, subliminal or overt, are so powerful, "successful" women want to and expect to "have it all"--a career and children. At the same time young men are being encouraged to perform their role as father with more physical and emotional involvement than ever before, but their primary role remains that of "breadwinner."

Female adolescents seem to have somewhat more realistic views of childbearing and childrearing than do their male counterparts. This is probably the result of a variety of early childhood influences that support stereotypical behaviors such as the "mommy" games they were frequently encouraged to play, and the responsibilities they were assigned as caretakers of younger siblings in their family of origin. At the same time young men were often discouraged from "playing house" or encouraged to play the part of the "repairman" or "workman." As they grow older and seek their first employment, young women are offered baby-sitting jobs far more often than are young men. It is generally thought that teenage males are not mature enough, capable enough, or interested enough in providing responsible care for very young children. Their services are usually sought for older children, especially male children because of their assumed protective ability and interest in sports. Hence, this type of early job experience centers around their physical abilities. Thus, these early activities can be considered as "societal conditioning" wherein stereotypical behaviors expected of each sex as adults and as parents are developed and reinforced. Perhaps women then take on their roles as the primary caretakers and nurturers as part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But how do males, especially as teenagers, learn how to be parents in other than stereotypical male breadwinner-type ways? And, more importantly, how do they learn responsibility in the prevention of pregnancy when they have little or no experience with the reality of parenting? Perhaps even those males who try to avoid unintended pregnancy do so only because their girlfriends insist or because their parents have "warned" them.

Teeange Males and Parenthood

The research literature on teen males and parenthood is sparse, ambiguous, and often contributes to stereotypical conceptualizations. Among the myths and misconceptions that are reinforced are that young men are irresponsible, ready to take sexual advantage of any female that will let them, and frequently are unwilling to take responsibility for, or participate in resolutions concerning unintended pregnancy. Yet, social service workers and other professionals who work with prospective teenage fathers have reported that these men are concerned about their female partners and their prospective children, intend to participate in child care, and provide financial support (Barrett & Robinson, 1982; Redmond, 1985; Westney, Cole, & Mumford, 1986). However, since their developmental stage and social situation frequently inhibit them from carrying out these good intentions, they are left with feelings of helplessness and lowered self-esteem. …