“Ever since I reached puberty, my father has been shouting at me saying that I am now a woman, I offer myself to men. After school, if I go with one of my classmates to do homework and come back late, my father will say I was with a man. In addition, he is not providing money for sanitary towels. One day I met a guy who asked me why I always look sad. He was so kind to me and I told him what I was going through at home with my father. He comforted me and our relationship grew until we fell in love. That is how I became pregnant and since then, it is worse with my father. I am now in a powerless situation. All I do to please my father makes him angrier. He has forbidden me from seeing my father’s child and I finally broke up with him.” (Tatiana. True story)
Tatiana’s story is one of the millions of young girls who became pregnant prematurely due to family instability and suffering for mental trouble as a consequence. In fact the sixteen cases of adolescent mothers I followed in the project had similar stories going from unhealthy relationships with one or both parents to conflict among parents or the absence of one or the both parents. This serious issue of early pregnancies costs a lot of money to families, communities and states.
Studies on child development by psychologists demonstrated how the relationship between parents and their children influence the child’s behavior.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) affirmed that puberty-called the genital stage in his psychosexual development theory- is a period where there is a psychic conflict between the Ego, the Id and the Super Ego around their sexual identity. According to Freud, the way the Oedipus complex was managed at the age of 5 will determine how the child responds to this conflict. Post-Freudian psychoanalysts like Eric Erickson (1902-1994) included the social dimension of the individual development. The psychosocial development theory therefore states that adolescenthood emerges with the crisis: Identity Versus Confusion. As the adolescent asks themselves who they are, the quality of the relationship with the parents plays a great role.
What does this mean for Tatiana and other many young girls?
From the two theoretical approaches, it is obvious that the conflictual relationship between Tatiana and her father is one of the causes of her pregnancy. Should we blame the father? Knowing that parents reproduce models that they have imitated from their own parents, can we really accuse him about his daughter’s pregnancy if he has never been sensitized about it? Many parameters are needed to answer but the importance is to understand that if parents are better prepared to support their girls during adolescenthood, it can reduce the pregnancy rate in our communities early enough.
For caregivers facing such situations, the following elements can help him in supporting the girls:
- Clinical and Psychosocial Assessment. It is important to listen to what adolescent girls says about the relationship with their family members and how they feel about it. Even if a caregiver is not a specialist, he/she should know the various theoretical approaches to understand adolescent girls.
- Provide the necessary therapy. In the case of Tatiana and the other girls, Cognitive Behavioral and problem-solved therapies were the one used. There are several others depending on the training or the affinity.
- Think about providing family therapy. In most cases, the problem is solved during socio-dramas. It is rare cases where the whole family talks about pregnancy issues and the way it is affecting them.
- Transfer /counter-transfer mechanisms. You might be the first to show interest to such mother-girls. If you are a female caregiver, emotional tiding can help during the counseling but if you are a male caregiver, affective feelings may arose both in you and the girl. Make sure you have a supervisor to whom you debrief all your counseling sessions. It will be of a great help.
Thinking about campaigns of prevention to raise the parent’s awareness can be very useful to address the matter of early pregnancies. Good programs can be conducted in hospitals, schools and universities.
As a parent, you can start by educating yourself. As a caregiver, you can implement this to your practices. As a brother or sister, you can help a sister or the young girl next to your door or work place. Let us put our effort together to fight against early pregnancies.
By Ngaté Hervé-Boris,M.A.
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You can also read the State of the World’s Mothers 2015, the urban disadvantage and
UNFPA, ADOLESCENT PREGNANCY: A Review of the Evidence, 2013.