In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Teenage Fathers

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Major Publications Regarding Particular Ethnic Groups
  • Adolescent Sexual Behavior, Pregnancy, and Parenthood in the United States
  • Characteristics of Teenage Fathers
  • Relationship and Parenting Behaviors
  • Service Needs
  • Why Teenage Fathers Do Not Get the Help They Need

Childhood Studies Teenage Fathers
Andrew M. Kiselica, Mark S. Kiselica
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0122


Teenage pregnancy and teen parenthood have been major social problems in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the US teenage pregnancy and birth rates skyrocketed. Because pregnant and parenting adolescent girls and their children were at risk for a host of social, economic, and health problems, widespread attention has been focused on understanding and addressing their needs. Meanwhile, adolescent fathers were largely ignored by society and were the victims of harmful stereotypes that erroneously depicted them as callous males who sexually exploited their female partners and then abandoned them and their babies. Subsequent research by a handful of pioneering investigators has revealed a more complicated picture of teenage fathers, documenting that boys who are parents during their teenage years also experience numerous hardships that both contribute to (and are the result of) their becoming fathers at a tender age. In addition, this research has shown that the relationship between adolescent fathers and their partners and children is much more complex than had been previously thought, that young fathers want help with the transition to fatherhood, and that they can be supportive partners and responsible parents, especially when they are provided male-friendly educational, social, and mental-health services. This article provides an overview of the characteristics, problems, and paternal behavior of teenage fathers and what we know about helping these young men with the challenges associated with early fatherhood.

General Overviews

Literature on the subjects of teenage pregnancy and childbearing and adolescent mothers has burgeoned since the 1980s largely due to much-warranted societal concern about adolescent mothers and their babies. However, there have been relatively few publications on teenage fathers: in particular, books that provide a general overview of the topic. Nevertheless, a much smaller but growing literature on adolescent fathers did emerge, and a few good basic manuscripts on this segment of the population have been published and are cited here. Elster and Lamb 1986 and Robinson 1988 were the earliest comprehensive volumes on the subject, providing critical overviews of the social sciences and reproductive health literature about young fathers while also raising awareness about the difficulties of adolescent fathers. Lerman and Ooms 1994 includes national survey data and policy considerations pertaining to young unwed fathers. Klinman, et al. 1985 is considered a classic work describing a national demonstration project to engage with adolescent and young adult fathers, identify their needs, and assist them with their paternal duties. Brown 1990, Achatz and MacAllum 1994, and Romo, et al. 2004 provide descriptions of later projects that had similar aims. Kiselica 2008 is the most recent comprehensive overview of teenage fathers, describing the status and characteristics of adolescent fathers in the United States and effective approaches to helping them.

  • Achatz, Mary, and Crystal A. MacAllum. Young Unwed Fathers: Report from the Field. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures, 1994.

    This report consists of an ethnographic study that identifies the hardships of young, unwed fathers in an urban environment and the barriers that deterred them from participating in service programs. This report includes an evaluation of a pilot service project administered in six cities that was designed to improve and reinforce parenting skills, increase earning potential, motivate declarations of legal paternity, and increase child support payments by young fathers.

  • Brown, Sally. If the Shoe Fits: Final Report and Program Implementation Guide of the Maine Young Fathers Project. Portland: Human Services Development Institute, University of Southern Maine, 1990.

    A rich source of information about the complicated lives of adolescent fathers and a detailed summary of the development, implementation, and evaluation of a comprehensive service project that was designed to assist young fathers.

  • Elster, Arthur, and Michael Lamb, eds. Adolescent Fatherhood. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986.

    Reports on the sexual behavior and contraceptive use of adolescent males, the prevalence of adolescent fatherhood, and the dilemmas, stressors, and coping strategies of teenage fathers. This work also summarizes research on the parental behaviors of teen fathers, the role of child abuse in adolescent fatherhood, and the consequences of teen fatherhood on educational attainment. Concludes by providing a rationale for service delivery to young fathers, complete with guidelines for practice, research, and policy.

  • Kiselica, M. S. When Boys become Parents: Adolescent Fatherhood in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

    A compassionate examination of adolescent fatherhood in the United States, including overviews of the sex lives of American teenagers; the characteristics, parenting behaviors, and service needs of adolescent fathers; and male-friendly approaches to helping them. Model programs and useful resources for practitioners are described, and public policy initiatives to prevent early fatherhood and improve outcomes for teenage fathers are recommended.

  • Klinman, Debra G., Joelle Sander, Jacqueline L. Rosen, Karen R. Longo, and Lorenzo P. Martinez. The Teen Parent Collaboration: Reaching and Serving the Teenage Father. New York: Bank Street College of Education, 1985.

    Report on a two-year national demonstration and research effort aimed at encouraging agencies to extend services to teenage fathers. This project gathered background data on teenage and young adult fathers, studied the characteristics of young men who availed themselves of services, identified essential components of successful programs for teenage fathers, and analyzed the impact of services for young fathers.

  • Lerman, Robert I., and Theodora J. Ooms, eds. Young Unwed Fathers: Changing Roles and Emerging Policies. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

    Provides scholars, policymakers, and social-service providers with the results of national surveys, ethnographic studies, program evaluations, and public policy initiatives pertaining to young, unwed fathers.

  • Robinson, Bryan E. Teenage Fathers. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1988.

    A critical review of the popular and research literature on teenage fatherhood that chronicles the teen father phenomenon, dispels common myths about adolescent fathers, highlights the tragic consequences of adolescent fatherhood and the psychological adjustment of teen fathers, offers suggestions for practitioners, and describes model programs and resources on teenage fathers.

  • Romo, Carlos, Jennifer V. Bellamy, and Marion Coleman. TFF Final Evaluation Report. Austin: Texas Fragile Family Initiative, Center for Public Policy Priorities, 2004.

    Contains a rich demographic profile of hundreds of adolescent and young adult fathers. Also describes promising service models and the Texas Fragile Family (TFF) Initiative, which was a project to develop social services for young, low-income fathers that would help them to support the emotional, physical, and financial needs of their children. This report concludes with a summary of the major evaluation findings of the TFF.

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