Advocating For Your Teen

Advocating for your teen – Speak up and ask for help

You are a supportive adult to your teen and one of their advocates! It is not always easy speaking up for them, but all of us at one time or another need an advocate when we are having a hard time speaking up for ourselves. In time, and by watching you, your teen will learn to advocate for themselves to get what they need.

Getting help

Even though everyone needs help from time to time, it can be really hard to ask for it.  Remember, most people are willing to help, if they know you need it. The key is letting people know! A statement like, ”My teen is pregnant,” will not get you the help you need, but saying, ”My teen is pregnant and needs a ride to work… a crib… a place to live… etc.” creates an opportunity for people to reach out and share, “I know a place you can go,” or “I have a crib I was just getting ready to donate.”  By nature, it makes people feel good to be able to help.

Advocating at school…

Schools have rules, schedules, and policies in place to run smoothly and efficiently.  Sometimes when a situation occurs that is unexpected, like a student who is about to become a parent, people within the system are not prepared or skilled at knowing how to assist. 

Your teen needs their school experience to be as normal as possible.  However, becoming a parent will require that the school provides assistance and makes accommodations that are different than the norm. School staff may or may not be happy about it, be supportive, or know what your teen needs. As an advocate you will have to seek out help, tell school staff members what your teen needs, and then make sure your teen actually receives that help.  Remember, although the school may not be happy about adjusting to your teen’s needs, the school cannot kick your teen out or send them to an alternative school or discriminate against them in any way. Knowing your rights is important!

The Student Advocacy Center of Michigan provides a comprehensive summary of the rights of pregnant and parenting teens:

The rights of pregnant and parenting students under Title IX

  • Schools cannot discriminate on the basis of pregnancy and all related conditions (for example, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, and so on).
  • Schools cannot discriminate on the basis of parental, family, or marital status.
  • In general, Title IX says that schools must treat pregnant and parenting students the same way they treat other students.

Thus, if you are a pregnant or parenting teen you have the right to:

  • Stay in school and stay in your regular classes. You have the right to stay in school while you are pregnant and after your baby is born.
  • Participate in all school and extracurricular activities. Your school can make you give them a letter from your doctor saying that you are medically able to participate, but only if it requires all students who see a doctor for a “health or medical condition” to do the same.
  • Participate in special programs for pregnant students. However, no one in your school can require or force you to take a special class for pregnant and parenting students. It must be voluntary.
  • Have excused absences for health problems related to your pregnancy or childbirth. You have the right to stay home from school for as long as your doctor says you should.
  • Return to your regular classes and activities after your baby is born. You have the right to return to school at the same academic status you had before you left school because of your pregnancy.

Your school may not discriminate against you for being pregnant or for being a parent. This means that your school must treat pregnancy and childbirth the same as other medical conditions. Therefore,

  • If other students who miss school for health reasons receive make-up assignments from their teachers, then you are entitled to receive make-up assignments for the classes that you miss because of pregnancy or childbirth.
  • If home instruction is available for students who need to stay home due to a medical condition, then you are entitled to home instruction if your doctor says that you need to stay home from school because of your pregnancy or childbirth.

More information about your teen’s rights while they are in school can be found here.

Positive outcomes are more likely when your teen has a support team at school. The most important member on this team is your teen. Their participation in their own plan will help to empower them to advocate for themselves.

Advocating in the community…

Community support may be easier to get than help at school because of the number of resources community organizations may have. Many community organizations have programs and support for pregnant and parenting teens. However, screen them carefully to make sure their offerings are in the best interest of your teen. It is wise for you and your teen to seek out and consider all resources together. For the teen to take advantage and make full use of a resource, they have to be a part of the decision and see value in it. If it is forced on them, or if they feel judged, shamed or pitied, they will be less likely to use it.

Start by making a list of needed services and then begin asking for help.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Child care
  • Support groups (for teens and for supportive adults)
  • Baby supplies
  • Tutoring
  • Housing assistance
  • Food pantries
  • Transportation