Being a teenage parent
What matters most to children is what their parents do, not what age their parents are. When parents raise their children in nurturing, warm, sensitive, responsive and flexible ways, children grow and develop well.
All parents navigate challenges as their children grow and develop. Many of these challenges are the same for teenage parents and older parents. But if you’re a teenage parent, you might have to navigate some special challenges, like trying to finish school while looking after a baby. You might also feel judged for being a teenage parent or overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising a child at a young age.
With the right support from family, friends and community services, you can navigate these challenges and help your children thrive by:
- working on your relationship with your baby or young child
- working on healthy relationships with other people in your life
- asking for and accepting practical and financial help
- trying to finish your education
- looking after yourself.
All pregnant women need proper and timely antenatal care. But if you’re pregnant and aged under 19 years, you need extra care in pregnancy and during parenting. You have special health concerns because your own body is still growing and developing. Pregnancy can also be a very emotional time for you. Read more about teenage pregnancy.
Your relationship with your baby as a teenage parent
The relationship you build with your child from birth and in early childhood is the foundation of your child’s health and development. A strong relationship with you helps your child feel safe and secure and gives your child confidence to learn and explore. A strong relationship also helps you understand and respond to your child’s needs.
Here are some ways you can build a strong relationship with your baby or young child:
- Bond with your baby. You can do this through cuddles, eye contact, smiles and play.
- Learn about baby behaviour and baby development. This can help you understand what to expect as your baby grows and develops.
- Get to know your baby’scues and body language. This can help you understand how your baby is feeling and what they need.
- Talk to your baby – the more talk, the better.
- Follow your baby’s lead about when to feed, play and sleep. This can help you develop a flexible routine for your baby.
- Play with your child. Play is a great relationship builder. It’s also the main way that children learn and develop in the early years.
As a parent, you’re always learning. It’s OK to feel confident about what you know. And it’s also OK to admit you don’t know something and ask questions or get help. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the demands of caring for your child, call your local Parentline. You might also like to try our ideas for dealing with anger, anxiety and stress.
Healthy relationships with others as a teenage parent
Relationships during your teenage years are often full of emotional ups and downs. And if you have a baby or young child, it can put some extra pressures on relationships. For example, less sleep and less time with a partner can lead to disagreements and conflict.
Strong and healthy relationships are not only good for you. They can influence your child’s development as well. For example, if your child sees kind and respectful relationships around them, your child learns to be kind and respectful with others.
So it’s worth working on your relationships with others when you’re a teenage parent. Here are some ideas:
- Work on positive communication with your partner if you have one. Positive communication is about listening, talking and problem-solving.
- If you have differences of opinion or disagreements, work together on conflict management.
- Make time to stay connected with friends – planning ahead and being flexible can help.
- Join a playgroup. Playgroups are great for your child’s learning and development, and they can be a great way to meet parents like yourself. You could look for a playgroup for teenage parents.
- Contact your local community centre or local council to find out about support groups for young parents. These sorts of groups can provide emotional support as well as information on child development and health care.
If there are problems in your relationships, including family violence, you can get support by calling the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). You can also call Relationships Australia in your state or territory on 1300 364 277 or Lifeline on 131 114.
Finishing school as a teenage parent
Finishing school is one of the most important things you can do, for yourself and for your child. If you finish school, you have a better chance of getting a job later on and being able to support your family. Studying can also help you stay connected with friends and other people who can support you, like teachers and school counsellors.
In Australia, if you’re pregnant or have a baby while you’re still at school, you have the right to continue and finish your schooling. And with the right planning and support, you can do it. It’s a good idea to talk to a social worker or counsellor or your antenatal team to find out about your options.
School support options might include:
- modified or flexible school hours
- reduced study load
- classroom support staff or guidance officers
- study from home
- return to school after your baby is born to complete your year 12 certificate
- part-time study to complete your year 12 certificate
- study at an external accredited institution like TAFE to complete your year 12 certificate.
You could also look at options for balancing family and study. For example, you could look into different child care options. Or you might be able to study at night while your partner or a friend or parent cares for your child.
I coped because I had to. I didn’t have much help except from friends, but I didn’t find parenting as difficult as some people made it out to be. The hardest part was dealing with so many different bits of expert advice from books, other parents and so on. Everyone has a different view on how children should be raised and I learned that you can’t panic – you just have to trust your instincts in the end.
– Pippa, mother of one
Practical help for teenage parents
There’s a lot of practical things to learn when you have a baby, like how to:
- feed your baby
- change a nappy
- bath your baby
- settle your baby for sleep
- know when your baby is sick
- start your baby on solids.
There are many people who can help you learn, including your GP, child and family health nurse, and other early childhood experts.
Money might be an issue for you as a teenage parent. It’s worth looking into government parenting payments, which can help you with the costs of raising children.
One way to ease practical and financial pressure is to think about whether you can stay with your parents while your child is young. This might help you deal with the pressures of caring for your child or coping financially. Your parents might also be able to give you some backup when you need it and even share some tips from when you were a baby.
Looking after yourself
You’re the most important part of your baby’s life.
When you’re focusing on looking after your baby, you might forget or run out of time to look after yourself. But looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally will help your child grow and thrive.
The keys to looking after yourself physically are regular exercise and healthy eating and getting as much rest as you can.
Your emotional and mental health is very important too. You could see whether your local council or medical centre can put you in touch with a counselling service. Counselling can help parents with personal issues as well as issues associated with being a parent at a young age.
What you eat, drink or smoke is passed through your breastmilk to your baby and can affect your baby’s health and development. So if you’re breastfeeding it’s best not to drink alcohol, smoke or use drugs, including marijuana. Second-hand and third-hand smoke is especially dangerous for babies.
– Pippa, mother of one