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Is Your Teenager Becoming a Parent?

Here's how you can help

"She's pregnant, Carole," My grammie said to my mother as I prayed this wasn't really happening. I can still remember the look of devastation written all over my mother's face when I told her the news. I was 13 weeks pregnant, and I still had my senior year of high school to finish. As I sat on the couch, praying the floor would open up and swallow me, my mama walked out of the room whispering, "I thought I raised you better than this."

My mother was filled with dread and worry as she tried to process the news and grieve the dreams she had for me. At the same time, I was trying to adjust to the idea of high school and motherhood. Being a teenager and not emotionally mature, I was scared that the father of my baby wouldn't be there … and what about college? What about the rest of my life?

Teenagers in the United States have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world. According to Teenhelp.com, 34 percent of teenagers have had at least one pregnancy for before the age of 20. With popular shows like The Secret Life of the American Teenager and MTV's Teen Mom, teenagers are becoming desensitized to the shock factor of teenager pregnancy and yet many still think, "It won't happen to me." Teenage parents are from all ethnic and social groups, including girls and guys who come from middle-class families and have grown up in the church.

Parents are shocked and devastated when their godly child comes to them with a positive pregnancy test or the news his girlfriend is expecting. Yet there is hope—hope for the future and for restoration in their relationship with God.

As a teenage mom, I needed to know that my life still mattered and God wasn't finished with me because of this one life-altering mistake. For a pregnant teenager, her belly becomes a public representation of her sin. She can't hide her shame and is already afraid she has made a mistake so big that she cannot be loved. What she needs to know from parents and other adults is that you still love her, she still matters.

Teenage pregnancy doesn't happen only to our teenage girls; it happens to our young men too. Teenage mothers and fathers both need support, prayers, and godly counsel to succeed at school and at parenting. Here are three areas you can focus on while your family adjusts to the idea of teenage parenting.

What Can You Do for Your Child?

Help your teenager come to terms with the fact that she or he is going to be a parent. For your teenage daughter, keep in mind she made the decision not to abort her child. Applaud her for not taking the easy route. Is adoption or keeping the child right for her and for you as a family? Now is the time to discuss the pros and cons of adoption and raising the child. If adoption is an option for your teen, visit Bethany.org. Bethany assists women and teens in unplanned pregnancies and provides information about the adoption process. They also provide counseling and other Christian resources after the birth. Pray with your daughter and as a couple about what God desires for her future, adoption or not.

If your son is becoming a father, help him navigate the waters of supporting the mother-to-be and baby. Discuss his fears and his new responsibilities, and assure him that you will be there to support his decisions. Organizations like FreedMen empower and encourage men to be who God is calling them to be. Consider resources like Dr. James Dobson's books Bringing Up Girls and Bringing Up Boys, and discuss the books with your son. This will prepare him for his role and give him insight into how his relationship will impact his child. The key to books like these is having open and honest communication with your son.

Seek godly counsel. Having a pregnant teenager can feel devastating. While you are trying to navigate the waters of relationship with your child, she or he is still trying to grow up. Finding a godly counselor helps mediate the tough conversations; it can restore your relationship with your child and help you and your spouse work through your feelings.

As a parent, you may need guidance in learning how to forgive your teenager for the choices he or she made. A counselor can help you process and sort through the emotional rollercoaster ride and empower you to find ways to support your child while still allowing him or her to grow up. Your teenager needs your support more than ever.

Find a MOPS group: Mothers of Preschoolers International is a faith-based group that encourages, equips, and strengthens each mom who walks through their doors. And Teen MOPS is one of their specialties. There your daughter will be surrounded by other teenagers who understand what she is going through. She can share her stories, gain insight, and learn how to be a better mom. Teen MOPS groups bring in speakers who discuss how to discipline, how to balance schedules, and even how to fill out college applications. As a Teen MOPS leader in Nebraska, I see teenagers come in frightened and worried that their lives are over; yet over time as they attend, they grow confident in their mothering skills and they know that life isn't over, it just looks a little different with baby.

Help your son: In your church, find a small group that encourages the growth of fathers. This will look different compared to a MOPS group. Look at Bible studies for young men or young dads. A group of fathers can mentor and encourage your son to finish school and give him an idea of how to be a fatherly figure in his child's life. Most often parents focus on the mother and forget there is a father who needs encouragement, support, and help to become the father God is calling him to be. If possible, allow him to continue participating in sports. Being on a team can help him relate to his new responsibilities, provide an outlet for his stress, and teach valuable skills of teamwork with the mother of his child.

Offer hope: It's been 13 years since I told my mama I was going to be a mother at 17. God has done some amazing things with the choices I made. As I grew in my role as a mother, my relationship with God also grew because my parents supported me, showing me unconditional love. My mom reminded me of my talent and encouraged me to go after my dreams. She ignited a hope within me that I could do this "mom thing." The future is in God's hands, and he isn't finished with me or your teenager yet.

Help your teenager see the bigger picture. While life may be intense with new responsibilities, sleepless nights, and bottles, prod him or her to look 10 years into the future. Remind your teenager that God can take mistakes and turn them into something good. Help him or her realize it's possible to still go to college and be a parent; it just may look a little different than what you all had envisioned. Help your teenager place hope in God.

Whether your teenager is pregnant or is a parent, keep in mind how you can gently guide and lead him or her to grow into the new role. Support, prayer, and encouragement are vital tools in helping your teenager become the parent he or she needs to be.

Heather Riggleman shares her teen-parenting experience and her walk with God in her book Mama Needs A Time Out. You can learn more about her at www.heatherriggleman.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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