Usually when we think of teen pregnancy we take into account the teenage girls and how their pregnancies will affect them. We often overlook the other critical component in the equation: the teenage boys. Obviously, teen males have as much responsibility as the teen females in getting pregnant. In fact, each year in the United States over 175,000 American boys ranging from ages fifteen to nineteen become fathers. Many pregnancy prevention programs focus on females and their role in reducing their risk of getting pregnant, yet fail to provide the same services for males. Men’s Health Month promotes awareness on preventable health related issues. The National Health Foundation contributes to Men’s Health Month through our Go Harold’s Way: Be a STAR (Successful Teen Acting Responsibly).
The Be a Star program aims to reduce the number of unplanned teen pregnancies, while increasing the rates for school completion and overall health and wellness among teenage youth. This program targets both at-risk female and male high school students, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to teen pregnancy prevention and joint responsibility. Not only is reproductive health covered, but an emphasis is also placed on academic development, self-esteem and other topics that have both short-term and long-term health and social benefits to youth.
Through peer-education workshops that address social pressures and introduce healthy reproductive practices, the Be a STAR program educates and empowers youth to avoid an unplanned teen pregnancy and/or early parenthood and increase more effective contraception use by encouraging skill development, healthy decision-making, as well as goal setting.
So, how does a pregnancy prevention program for at risk males, like Be a STAR, contribute to men’s health? First, the program helps break down the stigma that males shouldn’t seek help from support groups that improve sexual, mental or emotional health. Males – especially teen males –are likely to encounter pressure to conform to a masculine image, which can be difficult to change when seeking outside help (i.e. support groups, health programs). Programs consisting of mentorship have been positively associated with greater educational outcomes, psychological wellbeing and even physical health. “Manhood” can have multiple definitions; it can be biologically defined as simply being a male, or it can be defined as having manly qualities. But what are those manly qualities that makes someone a male? Gender Roles in Society is a workshop provided through the Be a Star program during which we question what it means to be a man. By doing so, the traditional image of a man is broken down, allowing the young men to have their own portrayal of what it truly means to be a man.
For many teen males in the program, positive male role models are not always present in their life. Although not always needed, a positive male role model can play a critical role in the healthy development of a teenage male. Positive male role models are also explored during our workshops in the Be a Star program. Students are asked to identify traits and characteristics of those who they think fit the mold of a positive figure. Students are better able to explore the lives of other males that may have been in the same situation as some of them, and learn how they managed to succeed and overcome adversity. A significant outcome from this lies within the ability to understand their own potential and the role they can play in positively influencing other males.
Although the program emphasizes that in an unplanned pregnancy it takes two to tango, it can also act as a gateway for young men to really question society’s definition of a man. Unfortunately, there is a stigma that males are weak or are less of a man for seeking any kind of help. The Be a Star program is working towards removing this stigma so that we are able to move forward in giving young men a more holistic approach towards redefining responsible “manhood”.