'Invisible' teen dads lack support - study

Guys who get girls pregnant while at high school aren't "dirtbags" and deserve a voice.

That is the findings of a new thesis by University of Waikato masters student Kerry Cooper, who graduates with honours today.

The Fraser High School dean and teacher researched the experiences of young men who become fathers and found that they often felt "invisible" and misunderstood.

Mr Cooper, 50, talked to five fathers aged from 17 to 19 - and one 30-year-old - about their paths to parenthood.

He said he got the idea for the thesis after observing the teen parent unit at Fraser High.

"It's called a parent unit, but I've never seen a guy in there," he said. "It's all girls with babies, which prompted me to think - what happens with the guys?"

He said there was little support for young fathers, and their feelings about becoming a parent carried little weight.

Though he can't speak for every teen dad, he said all of those he interviewed wanted to have a role in their child's life.

However, he said young fathers had to battle with common misconceptions that they were "dirtbags" and "bad boys".

"One of the big issues with young men who become fathers is they're actually invisible. When girls are pregnant you can tell, but you can't tell whether a guy's fathered a child or not.

"The only time you ever hear of young men who've had these experiences it's generally in a negative way."

He said when a married man got his wife pregnant people would come up, shake their hand and say congratulations.

"I don't think that happens to a 16-year-old boy. That doesn't mean the 16-year-old boy doesn't feel the same feelings as everyone else does when they've fathered a child."

Of the five young men interviewed, two were denied access to their child and the others were accepted by the mothers' families.

One of the young men was told in science class that his baby had been aborted a month after it happened.

"And, guess what? He fell off the rails and got all bent out of shape.

"He had no voice, no rights, no nothing."

Mr Cooper will graduate with a Masters of Education at a ceremony at the university's Te Kohinga Mārama Marae today.

More than 600 university students will graduate this week.

Waikato Times