I’ve owned a lot of weird stuff over the years. A life-size sumo wrestler made out of foam rubber. A Malibu Barbie that my kid sister beheaded. A lizard, a lava lamp, a collection of snow globes, even an electronic whoopee cushion. But there is one thing that has never been in my possession. I never owned a diaper bag. My Barbie didn’t even own a diaper bag.
Though my feet have never seen the stirrups of a delivery room, nor has ultrasound jelly touched my belly, I’ve experienced over 168 months of pregnancy during the past 22 years as an urban youth leader. That’s 21 pregnancies resulting in:
All to girls under the age of 20
At 46, I’m closer in age with the great grandmas than I am with the teen moms. But as the movie Juno points out, teen pregnancy isn’t just popping up in the inner city. It’s in the burbs, in the small towns, even on Nickelodeon. It’s almost acceptable to be pregnant these days, with high schools offering both birth control and baby care.
But what do you do if a teen tells you she’s pregnant…if you find yourself in a pickle while she’s craving one? Don’t see Juno hoping to gleam insights. I’ll fill you in on what the movie didn’t.
Have a Plan
Just like having a plan for a terrorist attack, hurricane, or alien invasion, you’ll want to think about what you’ll do before it happens. At your next staff meeting (AKA with the big pastor) discuss what to do when a teen gets pregnant. Start the conversation by mentioning this:
1 out of 3 teen girls get pregnant
2 out of 3 will end drop out of school
3 out of 3 churches can help
There is no one right way to handle this issue, but it must be handled. Depending on your denomination, size, and demographics of congregation, your policy will take shape. A church with a big youth group and lots of two parent households will have a different plan than a small church with mostly single parents. But one thing is for certain: you don’t want to blow this one off. For starters, God was big on helping the fatherless. Over 42 times in the Hebrew text God commanded His people to take care of the yothowm, a fancy schmancy Hebrew word for destitute and orphaned. God is serious about this one, so don’t put it on the back burner to plan a men’s’ retreat.
Plan A: Keep Her in Youth Group
Regardless if the teen had a lapse in judgment about having sex, the teen did make right decision by choosing life. If the church is going to be vocal about choosing life, we better help the teen mom when she makes that choice.
If your church makes the decision to have the teen mom stay in the youth group, you might want the teen mom (and father as well) to step down from leadership duties. For starters, they’ll need more time to devote to their new responsibilities. Besides that, keeping them leaders can also send a mixed message. However, a teen mom sharing her real deal can be a powerful experience. A good rule of thumb is to keep the babies out of the youth group meetings, unless of course, it’s an outreach program specifically designed for teen parents.
Plan B: Move Her into a Young Mom’s Group
The teen mom made an adult decision, so now she has to live with the consequences. Same rule applies for the guys. In order to help prepare her for her new role in life, bless the teen mom with a mommy mentor. This mom could be a former teen mom, a single mom, or a grandma with a big heart and open ears. If this is the policy you choose, don’t treat the teen like a leper if you see her in the pews. Keep tabs on her. Keep cultivating that relationship. And check out the website stayteen.org.
To Shower or Not to Shower
Children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD. Hey I didn’t write it; it’s Psalm 127:3. Be sure not to confuse the two–the messin’ with the blessin’. Teen moms need the support of a church at this critical time. Many teen moms will have real financial needs. The rule of thumb is not to turn a shower into a youth group party. Again, make it the responsibility of the church to help the new mom.
Enough About Her, What About You?
When the pregnancy is mentioned at prayer meeting, you’ll want to vaporize in the sticky pews. You might feel shame. You might feel like it’s your fault. Unless you gave the promiscuous teens the key to the church van to get busy in, don’t blame yourself. Instead, realize you did something right. For starters, the teen mom had the courage to tell you instead of dropping out of church. She chose life; now choose to support her decision. And if the staff gives you the stink eye, think of the looks the pregnant teen gets. She needs your support more than ever. You’ll need God more than ever.
School’s the Rule
Colorado school system made the news a few months back by proposing baby leave for new moms. When you consider two-thirds of teen moms drop out of high school, it doesn’t seem so crazy. Teen moms are at high risk of dropping out of school, Latino teens being the most likely. Regardless of her ethnicity, without a high school education, that teen mom is likely to end up in the cycle of poverty. So offer babysitting service while she studies or get her a tutor when she falls behind. And when she graduates? Be sure to celebrate.
For more information on teen pregnancy, check out the resources available at TastyFaith, including Life After Birth, a powerful Bible study series developed by Ginger. Download a sample of Life After Birth from Youth Ministy Exchange's Free Resources.