Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Perhaps the best way to answer the question of “How to avoid teen marriage?” is by asking another question: “Why do teenagers want to get married?”
The most common answers to this question are:
1) To get out of my parent’s house.
2) Because we are in love! He/She is THE one!
3) Because she is pregnant.
4) I’m afraid I will lose him/her if we don’t.
Those answers are undeniable proof that teens are not ready for marriage, its commitments and its responsibilities.
The easiest way to avoid teen marriage (at least for underage teens) is to deny parental permission. However, denying permission can also lead to other problems including your teen running away from home and possibly dropping out of school to do so. This does not mean that you should give in to the pressure! Consider this:
Teen marriages have a divorce rate that is 25% above the divorce rate for the average American. The reasons for this are simple: Teens who marry are more likely to drop out of school. They find themselves in low-paying jobs with financial responsibilities for which they are not prepared. If a pregnancy is involved, then they must take on the responsibilities of another human life, in addition to caring for themselves. Quite frankly, most teens are just learning how to care for themselves, much less are they able to function in a serious relationship and take on the responsibility of another human being. Additionally, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, “compared to girls who marry later, teenage brides have less schooling, less independence, and less experience in life and work,” leading to them being “more at risk for being abused and living at poverty levels.” Also, with the increased divorce rate for teen marriages, it is more likely that these teens will become single parents, which we all know is an additional struggle. Both our teenage boys and our teenage girls need to be encouraged to remain in school and learn how to handle responsibility before taking on the commitment of marriage.
Looking at the most common answers to the question of why teens marry, parents should consider:
1) Why does your teen want to move away from home? Generally this is because they feel that their parents are too strict, there are too many rules, and/or “life at home is just not fair.” In general, this may mean that parents are doing their job! However, parents must also understand that teens learn best through experience. Teens will only learn responsibility if we give them the opportunity. Yes, we risk the possibility of them making a mistake – but they would never have learned to walk if you had not been willing to let go of their hand. Rules are necessary; responsibilities towards home and family are necessary – but let’s make sure that we are not over-doing it by still treating them as if they were twelve years old. Gradual freedoms that increase as they prove their ability to handle them responsibly is a good guideline to consider.
2) He/She is THE one! How often did we feel that way in our teens and even twenties? Yet we all know that individuals mature and change greatly between the years of 17 and 25. Often the person your teen is at 25 will only barely resemble the person they were at 17. During all these changes, love, attraction and emotions will change drastically, too. It is important to remind your teens of this. Use illustrations such as the fact that very few people marry their high school sweethearts. Tell them how many boys/girls you dated in high school, how old you were when you met their mother/father, or give them examples of how much you changed during those years. Let them know that this is not a phenomenon that is tied to them alone. We all deal with it. Teens are very emotional and they feel emotions – including love – very deeply. Don’t be surprised – or upset – when they get emotional during such a conversation. Just remind them that you are there for them and that if he/she really is THE one, they will wait.
3) Teen pregnancy. I realize that the camps are firmly divided on this issue; however, my belief is that one mistake does not have to be compounded by another. Teenagers should not feel they must get married because they are pregnant. Marriage is a huge commitment and getting married will not change the fact that your teen had sex before marriage or got pregnant out of wedlock. Let’s not compound the trouble with irrational logic. Instead discuss all options with your teen and their boy/girlfriend. For many, abortion is simply not an option; however, your teen needs to know that the option is available to them. Adoption is not utilized nearly as often as we would think. Statistics show that only 2% of teen pregnancies end in adoption. Most teen girls choose to raise their child. In which case, they are going to need a lot of family support. Pregnant or not, encourage your teen to finish school. Let them know that their actions resulted in their responsibility. They need to finish school, work part-time and take care of their child. Babysitting by parents or other family members will be necessary to achieve these goals; however, babysitting every time your teen wants to attend a football game or hang out with her friend is not. Also, the father should be held accountable, too. Just because the teen girl must carry and deliver the child doesn’t mean the father doesn’t have a responsibility. He was involved in the creation; he should be involved in the responsibility. An amicable agreement is always best; however, if necessary, your teen should be encouraged to file for child support with the local Department of Social Services or Family Court.
4) Fear of losing a boy/girl friend if they are not married (thus solidifying the relationship?) is both irrational and a sign of other, deeper problems. Talk to your teen about divorce rates in the U.S. Explain to them that marriage is not the answer and why. If their relationship is having problems in the dating process, those problems will only get worse with marriage. Additionally, your teen is probably experiencing issues with self-esteem, self-perception and/or inadequacy. It is important to find out from where these issues stem and to address them positively. Teens are bombarded with thousands of messages that tell them what they must be in order to be successful. Rarely does any one teen fit those unreasonable expectations. We know this from the sheer irrational expectations we see presented to them and from the many problems – eating disorders, self-mutilation, alcohol and drug abuse, teen suicide – that stem from them. If your teen is not comfortable talking with you – or your teens problems are of a nature that you alone cannot handle them – find a counselor with whom your teen is comfortable and begin sessions immediately. There is not time to waste when it comes to the health and well-being of our teens.
Most of all, be a parent of which your teen can say they can TALK and you will LISTEN. Open lines of communication are a necessity when it comes to raising teens. Teens will often rebel against heavy-handedness, but respond with understanding when it comes to communication. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy states that according to their study completed in 2006, teens respond best to two major influences in their lives: 1) their parents and 2) their morals, values and religious beliefs. Be there for your teen! They need you.