For a teenager, fathering a child may be just one event on a continuum of deviant behaviors, but one with particularly far-reaching consequences for the father, the child, and society. Teen fathers are unlikely to be in a position to provide financial, emotional, or other parental support for their children, and in this regard can be considered poor role models. Their legacy to their children is likely to be one of socioeconomic disadvantage, poorer health, and poorer education, among other hardships.
What are the implications of these studies? In terms of policy, intervention programs to reduce teen fatherhood should focus on what these studies show to be the population at highest risk: inner-city minority youth who are involved in delinquency and drug use and who show an accumulation of risk factors. Programs for delinquent youth should contain fatherhood components that focus on this subset of risk factors in a targeted fashion. These studies also suggest that reducing teen fatherhood will require taking into account multiple and often interacting risk factors at different stages in the life cycle. Programs to improve basic skills and life options for urban youth, to address negative peer environments and lack of school success, and to demonstrate positive alternatives to early parenthood are some of the measures needed to help reorient adolescent males who may feel they have nothing to lose by fathering a child while still in their teens. In reality, however, these young men stand to lose a great deal by becoming teen fathers, as do the children they father and the society in which this cycle of disadvantage is perpetuated.
More must be learned about the antecedent factors that place young men at risk for becoming fathers in their teens and about the longer term consequences of teen fatherhood for the fathers and their children. More information is also needed about how teen fatherhood can be reduced. As the Rochester study found, about half of the young men at high risk for teen fatherhood did not become fathers; by investigating what distinguishes these young men from those who did become fathers, researchers may be able to gain important clues for reducing teen fatherhood rates.