A comic book and guide created for teenagers and teenage parents provides professionals with innovative resources to be able to discuss crucial, sensitive and important topics that come with pregnancy and parenting.
Tool4Teen – Developing an Innovative Tool in Youth Work for Teen Parents was a two-year Erasmusplus project that took place between 2020 and 2022 and involved Maltese partner Willingness and other organisations from four European countries.
The comic book tells the story of a teenage girl who gets pregnant and follows her experiences. The guidebook explains the methodology behind the comic and helps experts in the field use this tool effectively when working with clients.
The interactive kit offers teenagers an opportunity to reflect on a story that is external to them, thus helping them see things objectively, while applying the required skills to their very own personal stories.
“Teenage pregnancies are not common in Malta. However, we still need to reduce our numbers and provide adequate support to those teenagers who do get pregnant,” says Marilyn Muscat, an educational psychologist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council in the UK and a senior educational and child psychologist at Willingness.
A National Obstetric Information System report drawn up by the Directorate for Health Information and Research in 2020 shows that Malta registered one birth to a teenager under the age of 15 and 130 births to teenage girls aged between 15 and 19.
Fears and challenges
“During adolescence, one is still developing the idea of who they are and wish to be. When a teenager finds out she is expecting a child, this sense of identity exploration becomes more complex,” Muscat says.
“This new reality affects crucial milestones in a teenager’s life, mainly socialisation. One of a teenage parent’s main fears is that once the baby is born, her life would be over. If the teenage mother is not in a relationship, she might also be afraid that no one would want her with a child, therefore, she would remain alone.”
As scary as it can be, teenage parents should tell a person they can confide in about their pregnancy, Muscat says.
“Having a supportive network and someone they can trust will make the process easier. It is also likely that the teenager would still be living with her parents. Involving your loved ones sooner rather than later is recommended for more time to adjust. If opening up is not that simple, teenagers can seek professional support.”
“A pregnancy will bring challenges teenagers might not want to deal with but there can also be a positive side to it”
Muscat explains that if a teenager is still attending compulsory education, she can ask to see the school counsellor, psychologist or guidance teacher. She can also seek support from organisations such as Dar Ġużeppa Debono. Teenage parents and their family can also seek the services of a therapist, counsellor or psychologist.
“A pregnancy will bring challenges teenagers might not want to deal with. There can be a lot of stigma and shame surrounding teen pregnancies but there can also be a positive side to it. A baby will not ruin a teen’s life but a young mother will definitely need to make adjustments. Some dreams and aspirations may have to be postponed but they do not have to be shelved forever.
“If you focus on developing a positive relationship with your child, the journey of parenthood can be an enriching one. Being young yourself can provide you with fresh perspectives and the energy to deal with a young child. Ask for support and make the best out of it. Children grow and things will not always be this difficult,” she adds.
A guidance and preventive tool
Tool4Teen also provides guidance to professionals working with teen parents in discussing such a complex journey with their clients. It covers different issues that can occur during the journey of pregnancy and early years.
“Furthermore, the comic book is something innovative that teenagers can relate to and provides visuals to help them reflect,” Muscat says.
Besides, Tool4Teen can also act as a preventative tool, serving to generate discussions about teen pregnancies and what life as a parent is about.
“The aim of the project is to educate about parenting, as learning how to be effective parents is essential in helping a child grow into happy, healthy and well-adjusted human beings.”
For more information, visit https://willingness.com.mt/tool-for-teen-comic-strip/.