ERIC Identifier: ED341891
Publication Date: 1991-12-31
Author: Huey, Wayne C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Counseling Teenage Fathers: The "Maximizing a Life Experience"
(MALE) Group. ERIC Digest.
Teenage pregnancy is not new, and many programs have been developed and
implemented to address the problem; however, the emphasis has been primarily on
the teenage mother and her child. In most instances, teenage pregnancy has been
viewed solely as a woman's issue, with the adolescent father regarded as a
shadowy, unknown figure--more a culprit than a potential contributor to either
the mother or his offspring (Parke, Power, & Fisher, 1980).
School and agency counselors must continue to offer programs to support young
mothers and their children, but this forgotten half of the teenage pregnancy
problem cannot continue to be overlooked. Recently, the plight of the unwed,
teenage father has begun to gain attention (Robinson & Barret, 1985;
Stengel, 1985). Why has it taken so long to recognize the needs of the teenage
father? Young men in American society generally are expected to have it all
together or to pretend that they do. Too often, unwed teenage fathers have been
stereotyped as callous, "macho studs" who are interested only in their own
pleasure. Because of these stereotypes, counselors, educators, and others did
not believe that the young men recognized their need for help or that they would
participate in programs designed to assist them. Studies now show that most
teenage fathers do not have it all together and are just as confused, afraid,
and anxious as the young women they impregnate (Jensen, 1979; Robinson &
THE "MAXIMIZING A LIFE EXPERIENCE" (MALE) GROUP
teenage fathers care about what happens to their children (Barret &
Robinson, 1981; Earls & Siegel, 1980; Parke, Power, & Fisher, 1980;
Stengel, 1985) and need to be given the opportunity to explore their concerns
and feelings; however, they do not usually ask for help on their own (Coleman,
1981). Little has been reported in the literature about the counselor's role in
providing support for unwed fathers. Articles on teenage pregnancy occasionally
will include a paragraph suggesting that the young man also should be helped,
but specific programs designed to assist the adolescent father are still
relatively rare (Foster & Miller, 1980; Stengel, 1985; Wagner, 1980). This
digest describes a group counseling program that was developed to provide
support and assistance for unwed teenage fathers in the school.
Program Rationale and Objectives
The Maximizing a Life Experience (MALE) program was developed to focus on a
different set of the three Rs: Rights, Responsibilities, and Resources. The
general goals were to help the young men understand their emotional rights (to
express feelings and concerns and receive emotional support) and
responsibilities, as well as their legal rights and responsibilities, and to
learn about available resources. The specific objectives for the program were to
help the teenage fathers:
Learn more about themselves and better understand their feelings about their
Understand their legal and emotional rights and responsibilities.
Recognize that pregnancy cannot be dismissed as an accident.
Obtain factual information about reproductive biology, contraception, and
sexually transmitted diseases.
Identify and explore their present and future options.
Learn how to solve problems and make sound decisions.
Realize what resources are available and how to use them.
THE MALE GROUP
The eight group participants were enrolled
in a suburban high school with a student population that was primarily Black and
from lower socioeconomic levels. The young men, two of whom were expectant
fathers, were between 15 and 18 years old and had academic averages that ranged
from a B to a D. About half of them hoped to continue their education after high
school graduation. The average age of first sexual activity was 12, which is
consistent with reported data for Black men (Earls & Siegel, 1980). Two of
the young men still dated the mothers of their children; they all maintained
regular contact with their children.
The MALE group met once a week for 8 weeks in l-hour sessions during the
school day and took one 3-hour field trip on a teacher workday. The meetings
were scheduled on a rotating basis so that group members did not miss the same
class more than twice. They were required to obtain assignments ahead of time
and to keep up in their course work.
The first session included four primary tasks: program overview and
logistical information, a get-acquainted activity, setting group and individual
goals, and development of ground rules.
The second session began with a film, "Teenage Father" (Hackford, 1978),
which followed a teenage couple from the time they learned that the girl was
pregnant until a decision was reached as to what action to take. Filmed from the
young man's perspective, it served as an excellent stimulus for discussion of
values and attitudes regarding teenage sexual activity.
The third session also began with an audiovisual presentation. Titled "His
Baby Too: Problems of Teenage Pregnancy," the filmstrip "defines and highlights
the role of the unwed father, and stresses the importance of his active role in
solving the problems of an unplanned pregnancy" (Vanderslice, 1980, p. 4).
Discussion questions, suggested activities, and a bibliography, combined with
the audiovisual presentation, made this an excellent resource and stimulated
further discussion of options available to the teenage father or prospective
Learning the legal rights and responsibilities of unwed teenage fathers was
one of the primary reasons some of the members joined the group. An attorney
from the Legal Aid Society was provided with a copy of the group's questions
before the fourth session and came prepared to respond to those and any
The fifth and sixth sessions were designed to provide information on
reproductive biology, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases. In
Session 5, a speaker from Planned Parenthood presented basic information on
reproductive processes and contraception. Session 6 was a field trip to a
Planned Parenthood center, where a staff member reviewed information on
reproduction and contraception and presented information on sexually transmitted
diseases. The young men were then given a tour of the center. Services available
for their sexual partners were also discussed.
Phipps-Yonas (1980) reported that teenagers who use contraception effectively
seem to be better problem solvers. The seventh session was designed, therefore,
to teach effective problem-solving and decision-making models and to give group
members the opportunity to use their new skills in simulated situations.
In the eighth session each member was given an opportunity to use the group
resources and his new skills in selecting and working through a personal problem
related to being a teenage father. Throughout these sessions, it was emphasized
to the adolescent fathers that what they did and what they became depended on
their own concerted efforts.
The ninth session included three primary tasks: reviewing and summarizing the
group experience, providing information about the availability of resources and
completing a group evaluation and posttest.
PROGRAM EVALUATION AND FOLLOW-UP
On a l0-point scale, with
10 being the most favorable rating, the members gave the group experience an
overall rating of 9.5. Group members also answered questions on what they liked
best about the group, what they would change, and what was the most important
thing they learned. Their responses indicated that they liked the supportive
atmosphere and a chance to discuss their situations with others who had similar
problems. Most of them had not been aware that they shared the unwed father role
before joining the group. The most commonly suggested change was to have longer
and more frequent sessions.
Changes also were noted on several posttest items. For example, seven members
reported that they: (a) now consider the possibility of pregnancy before having
sexual relations and (b) would now consider abortion as an option, compared with
five positive responses to these two items on the pretest. All eight group
members agreed that the man should share contraceptive responsibility, compared
with four on the pretest; and, seven members reported that they now used
contraceptives consistently, compared with three on the pretest.
In a follow-up of the eight group members one year later, four were in
college or technical school, two were in the military, and two were still in
high school. None were married or had a second child, and all were continuing to
contribute toward the support of their first child. The only change in the
follow-up two years later was that one young man had dropped out of college, and
one had graduated from high school. Both of them were working full time.
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
The experience of fatherhood is
a life-changing event. School counselors must overcome the prevalent myths about
teenage fathers and assume a more equitable position in providing services for
these young men. They need help in understanding their feelings, their legal and
emotional rights and responsibilities, their alternatives, and the possible
consequences of these choices.
The MALE group program was an attempt to provide unwed teenage fathers with
knowledge, resources, care, support, and counsel so that they could cope more
effectively with their quickly changing lives and become productive citizens who
could compete successfully with their peers.
Becoming a father during adolescence has serious consequences for individual
development, and teenage fathers are not psychologically prepared for their new
role. School counselors must become more active in responding to the silent
cries of the forgotten half of the teenage pregnancy problem.
Barret, R. L., & Robinson, B. E. (1981).
Teenage fathers: A profile. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 60, 226-228.
Coleman, E. (1981). Counseling adolescent males. Personnel and Guidance
Journal, 60, 215-218.
Earls, F., & Siegel, B. (1980). Precocious fathers. American Journal of
Orthopsychiatry, 50, 469-480.
Foster, C. D., & Miller, G. M. (1980). Adolescent pregnancy: A challenge
for counselors. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 59, 236-240.
Hackford, T. (Producer and Director). (1978). Teenage father [Film]. Los
Angeles: Children's Home Society of California.
Jensen, J. D. (1979). Youth and sex: Pleasure and responsibility (2nd ed.).
Parke, R. D., Power, T. G., & Fisher, T. (1980). The adolescent father's
impact on the mother and child. Journal of Social Issues, 36, 88-106.
Phipps-Yonas, S. (1980). Teenage pregnancy and motherhood: A review of the
literature. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 50, 403-431.
Robinson, B. E., & Barret, R. L. (1985, December). Teenage fathers.
Psychology Today, pp. 66-70.
Stengel, R. (1985, December 9). The missing-father myth. Time, p. 90.
Vanderslice, C. (Ed.). (1980). His baby too: Problems of teenage pregnancy
[Filmstrip]. Pleasantville, NY: Sunburst Communications.
Wagner, C. A. (1980). Sexuality of American adolescents. Adolescence, 15,