What to do with a teen pregnancy in your youth group

It’s a tough one this week, the question of the week. Last week I got into contact with a British youth worker who was wondering how to approach the situation of a teen in her youth group being pregnant. I figured it was a good topic to write a bit about, since unfortunately it’s something we can all encounter. What do you need do when a teen in our youth group is pregnant?

There are a few practical things to consider and then there’s the more emotional and pastoral stuff. Let’s start with a few practical guidelines you’ll need to remember when dealing with a teenage pregnancy in your youth group:

Know the law

It’s important first of all, to know your legal obligations. Unfortunately, not all teen pregnancies are caused by voluntary sexual relations between teens. That means your knowledge of the pregnancy can have legal ramifications. Are you obliged to report it if the pregnancy turns out to be caused by rape, incest, or from sex with an adult? Know the law so you can do the right thing and be honest about this with the teen(s) involved.

Don’t promise confidentiality

While confidentiality between youth workers and teens is crucial, a pregnancy is not something you should promise to keep a secret. Sure, you can give the teen a week or so before telling her parents because she may need some time to think about how to do this, but don’t ever promise to keep it confidential. You can’t and you shouldn’t, this is something the parents should know and be involved in.

Seek help

If you know you’re in over your head, seek help. There are people who deal with this on a professional basis and who can give you information, help, and support. Don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself, if it’s too much or too big for you, it’s in everyone’s interest that you seek help and/or let someone else handle it.

Then there’s the emotional and pastoral side of the story. When a teen tells you she’s pregnant, it can be quite a shock. How do you react to this news? What should you say or do? Here’s my advice:

Listen

Try and let the teen tell her or his story first. It’s important to get a good picture of the circumstances in which the pregnancy happens. Listen carefully for any indicators that there may be more to the story, that the teen is lying or covering up. While it’s not your job to decide if there’s been a crime or anything, it’s important to get a feel for what’s going on, so you can take appropriate action.

Don’t judge

While there should be no mistake about the sin of having sex before being married, condemnation really isn’t the way to go. Remind yourself that that is one very scared girl (or boy, if it’s about his girlfriend) in front of you. They don’t need your judgment, they need your love and your compassion. Chances are they know already they messed up, they don’t need you to tell them. They need your help. Later on, you can and should address the spiritual issues.

Don’t take over responsibility

Especially with younger teens, you may be tempted to go into problem solving mode and basically take over from them. But you can’t take over responsibility and you shouldn’t. You can advise, offer counseling, help with practical stuff etc, but the teen should take responsibility herself. If you feel that that’s not the case, focus on trying to change that first of all.

This is different in the case that the pregnancy is the result of a crime, in which case you should try and get professional help (for instance from a trauma psychologist or psychiatrist) as soon as possible, all with the parents permission of course.

Involve the parents as soon as possible

Like I said in the beginning, it’s okay to give the teen some time to gather courage to tell the parents, but not more than a week. A teen pregnancy is not something you should keep a secret from parents and don’t forget that they’re responsible for their child, not you. If the teen is scared to talk with her parents, offer to be present to help out, but let her do the talking herself (or him, if the father of the baby has to tell his parents).

Inform the youth group

Ask permission from the teen involved and the parents to inform the youth group. Take some time to do this the right way. Even peers can judge quickly and harshly and the teens involved are going to need all the support they can get. Be honest about the facts whenever possible (again, if the pregnancy wasn’t due to voluntary sex, you may need to rethink your strategy…but even then it may be best to be as honest as you can) and use the occasion to talk about sex with your teens. That doesn’t mean you should set the pregnant teen as a bad example, but you don’t have to act like it’s completely normal either. Just give the teens room to ask any and all questions they may have. Then ask them to support their friend however they can. Stay on top of any rumors, gossip or bath mouthing that may occur because of the pregnancy and deal with this swiftly. It’s important to protect both the teens involved and their families from this.

Monitor the process

In my opinion, monitoring the rest of the process is a crucial task for a youth worker. Sometimes youth workers may feel that once the parents know, they can sort of lean back and let it go, seeing as they have transferred the responsibility for the problem back to the parents. But I don’t think that’s the case. We all know that in perfect families, we can let go. But when was the last time you encountered a perfect family?

You’ll need to monitor the process to make sure the situation is being dealt with the right way. What is especially important is that the wishes of the teen are being taken into account. It’s heartbreaking to know that teens are still being forced to give up their baby for adoption by their parents. And even in Christian families, teens are sometimes pressured into having an abortion.

Keep in contact with the teen, offer counseling and pastoral help to both the teenage parents involved and their parents if necessary and make sure you know for a fact that the right decisions are being made. Don’t ‘let go’ until you’re absolutely certain everything is okay.

Have you ever dealt with a teenage pregnancy in your youth group? Do you have any other advice to add?

Comments

  1. Haley says

    During my first years as serving as a youth pastor, a pregnant teenage girl began attending our church. She came after being invited by one of our students. The church she attended before “kicked her out” when she told them she was pregnant. The student that invited her to our church told her we would love and respect her and support her.

    She knew she had made a mistake and even asked to make a public confession to our youth group. She was so loved on and supported that she told another pennant teen friend of hers about our youth group. We soon became known as a youth ministry that loved teens regardless of their mistakes.

    Some thoughts:
    While you and your youth group might be accepting of expectant teens, members of your church may not be. I suggest not only addressing the youth group but also the church as a whole. The church body can offer resources, guidance and support that the youth group may not be able to provide.

    Connect the teen with a young couple with young children that can serve as mentors through the process.

    Don’t stop supporting and encouraging after the child is born. The new born child will need as much support as the mom does.

    Throwing a baby shower for the mom and child…it might be the only one they get.

    • Rachel says

      Bit of a slow reply here from my side due to illness, but thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree with your ‘thoughts’, a very valuable addition! I love the suggestion about adult mentors with young children, what a wonderful idea to provide the teen(s) with good role models. Thank you!

  2. says

    This is a great post for those who have never had to deal with this issue. I agree with all of your points of advice and will probably be passing this out to some of our adult leaders who are helping out a teen mom right now but still struggling with some of the issues that comes with.

    • Rachel says

      Hey Ben, thanks for stopping by and I’m really glad you found the post helpful. I’ve gotten some great feedback on this post, it seems to be a topic there’s little info on for youth leaders. If you have any other tips, please share them so we can learn from each other’s experiences!

  3. Rebecca says

    Hi, I agree with Ben, this is a great post. The church I have been apart of since it’s beginning 24 yrs ago just kicked a teen girl out of their youth group because she became pregnant. I don’t attend there anymore (not because of that, other similar reasons)but was very saddened to hear of it. I had been in that position years ago, and remember how scared and condemned I felt. It is so important to let these girls know God is a God of LOVE, not condemnation. We all make mistakes, whether or not they show on our bodies. I know for a fact that there have been a few teen girls at my old church that got pregnant but then had abortions for fear of being shamed or put out. Thanks for the post.

    • Rachel says

      Stories like that truly sadden me Rebecca and I am so sorry for you that you faced condemnation as well. We as Christians are often so quick in condemning the ‘visible sins’ while we keep our own sins hidden, which are just as bad. And we can’t seem to get the difference between condemning the sin and condemning the sinner in our heads. It’s such a lost opportunity to share God’s love with some very scared and confused teens. If we condemn them at their time of need and basically turn our backs on them, we may lose them for the Kingdom forever…our actions may have eternal consequences, I wish we’d all be more aware of that!

  4. Angel says

    My teenage daughter just had a baby and is now being told she is an adult and will not be able to attend youth. She will have to go through a 6 week course on open sin before they will entertain the idea of letting her go back but not without restrictions. Where is this biblically?? I can’t find it anywhere.

    • says

      I’m so sorry for you and for your daughter for what she’s going through. This is sadly a story I hear too often. There’s little love and grace in how they are treating her. Where she needs love and forgiveness, there’s only condemnation and superiority. All I can say is that they are wrong. Of course she has made a mistake, but a six week course on sin is not how Jesus would approach her. I am so sorry, I hope you will find a church where they will treat her with the love and grace she so desperately needs…

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