Cronkite-Carnegie Initiative

Latino teens have the highest teen pregnancy rate and the highest teen birth rate of any major ethnic group in the United States. Among the Latina population, 53 percent of teenage girls will become pregnant once before they turn 20 and almost seven in 10 Latina mothers - 69 percent - drop out of high school.

Something else becomes lost in those numbers, however.

The young Latino father is profiled much less than the teen mother. Analyze national reports, type "Latino teen parents" in a search engine and majority of the data that is provided references mothers only.

"When a young girl has a child, then something happens and we say 'she is giving birth to this child,' and there is a sacredness about the mother," said Jerry Tello, director of the National Fatherhood and Latino Institute based in Hacienda Heights, Ca. "We don't say that about the fathers. So, just the essence of the role already from the beginning is different."

The academic literature – as pointed out in "Acculturation and Father Engagement with Infants Among Chinese- and Mexican- Origin Immigrant Fathers" featured in Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice about Men as Fathers – often portrays the typical Latino father's role as the "ultimate authority figure who avoids intimacy with other family members to maintain their respect." He is supposed to provide for the family, discipline the children and represent the family in activities outside the home.

"Sometimes, Latino males face that, because the culture says only women do certain things and men should not do other things, even if they want to," Tello said.

However, according to recent studies from California State University, a new model is emerging in which the Latino family unit is more egalitarian and the power of the male is less absolute than in the traditional model. Fathers interact with their children in less authoritarian ways and in more caring, nurturing ways. They are more willing to play a non-traditional role and assist with the care of the children.

"Boys and men nurture children differently," Tello said. "Women will hold a baby, and a male will throw it up and it's still nurturing. It's just a different kind of nurturing. But we never teach in child development, 'Throw it (the baby) up.' There's a certain sense of comfort when you throw the baby up and catch it. You are saying, 'I'm not going to drop you. You are going to be fine.'"

Whether the father assumes the traditional role or the new one may depend on how much he is acculturated into the American society. The common portrayal of Mexican fathers as "macho" contrasts with the role of modernized American fathers.

"I grew up here and with Latino parents, and with Latino dads, especially, they have this machismo, and they aren't around as much with their kids," said Kenneth deLoera, 24, a young Latino father in Tempe, Ariz., whose daughter, Isabella (Bella) deLoera just turned three this October. "I didn't want to be that either. I wanted to be someone my daughter could look up to, someone who was around for her and understanding. I didn't want to buy into that machismo thing."

A study from California State University's Department of Social Work found that the way Latino teen fathers see parenthood is affected by the relationships they had with their fathers. For example, many Latino teens who had recollections of their fathers not spending much time with them had a desire to spend more time with their own children.

"I think the other thing that goes on sometimes is that often a young man has not seen someone else do it for him or has not seen someone else do it, and it's very difficult for him to know how to do it," Tello said.

Whatever perception the teenager father has, it greatly influences the way in which he engages with his child.

"The way my dad behaved and interacted with people, I think more than anything, people saw his personality and really loved that," deLoera said. "That's something that I admired about my dad, and so, that's kind of what I want to be for Bella." Often, Latino males enter into adolescence with an incomplete, stereotyped perception of what it means to be a man.

"We make a differentiation between maleness and manhood," Tello said. "Maleness is a physiological process of development. Manhood is incorporating values and responsibility

in what you do. So, you have a lot of males. You have a lot of male fathers, but they are not necessarily men that have chosen fatherhood."

The Struggles of Immigrant Parents

For the children of immigrant parents, there are even more conflicts and contrasts. In 2004, 23 percent of children in the U.S. had at least one immigrant parent.

In an interesting paradox, children with immigrant fathers are more likely to live with their fathers than American-born children, regardless of the immigrant's native country.

That means the children are seeing role models who are facing the additional stresses of being foreign born, even more so if they are in the country illegally. The stresses may include underemployment, unemployment, language barriers and barriers to services.

An increase in the parents' English proficiency has been shown to change the parenting styles of Mexican parents according to studies published in Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice about Men as Fathers.

"When parents do not speak English or are not familiar with the mentoring culture, they might be less likely to be able to monitor their kids effectively," said Dr. Angela Chen, an associate professor at ASU's School of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation. "They spend all of their efforts trying to survive in this society." Chen said that teens who don't have a trusting relationship with their parents are more prone to risky behavior.

"We find that mental health, substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors are all highly correlated to each other," Chen said. "We find that they might have some similar precursors. One is that they don't have a warm and trusting relationship with their parents. Teens who live in poverty and communities with higher criminal rates are more likely to engage in all types of risky behavior."

The prevalence of risky behavior among Latino teenagers is daunting. Tello believes that there is a spirit-breaking cycle of internalized oppression experienced by Latino teens. He thinks it is reflected in self-injurious behaviors such as indiscriminate and unprotected sexual activity, relationship violence and substance use.

"We see in Latino communities higher rates of discrimination, higher rates of school dropouts, higher rates of a whole lot of things that there's a lot of hopelessness,"

Tello said. "Society is really not providing avenues that are culturally competent or that meet the needs of these young boys and girls where they are at. They are not helping them find their identity in a good way," Tello said.

Because of this hopelessness and lack of support, there develops a "spirit-breaking understanding" of what defines a man and a woman and the relationship between them, according to Tello. Such perceptions often have a direct impact on the young Latino population's vulnerability for domestic violence and HIV infection. According to the AIDS Education and Prevention organization, pregnant Latinas and parenting adolescents are one of the populations at risk for acquiring HIV due to the high rate of unprotected sex.

The reasons why Latino teens are not using protection vary from study to study.

However, the most common reasons are a lack of knowledge of contraception, difficulties in obtainment and fear the parents will find out. Among other reasons why teens don't use contraception are a decrease in pleasure and unplanned sexual intercourses.

"I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for parents to communicate with their teens about sexual behavior or sexual issues early on like in early adolescent, maybe 11 years old, 10 years old," Chen said.

According to California State University's Department of Social Work, teen boys tend to be less knowledgeable about pregnancy risks.

"A majority of the parents we have interviewed are extremely uncomfortable in talking about those sensitive issues with their adolescent children regardless of the gender of their children, boys or girls," Chen said. "More likely the moms are more willing to talk to their daughter, but not fathers to daughters or fathers to sons or mothers to sons."

In a survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy's (NCPTUP), 75 percent of Latino teens their daughters. The NCPTUP says this might be attributable to the "machismo" and "marianismo" values.

But Chen that those Latinos who have become more acculturated to the U.S., often engage in the riskiest behavior.

"Because the family is so embedded in that particular culture, we do think that in order to be effective, we have to promote parents and teach parents and to collaborate with parents to be there, to support them, to have better skills," Chen said. "We do find that with the acculturation level among those (Latino) teens, the ones who are more acculturated (they are more like their peers who grew up in the United States), they are performing higher risky sexual behavior than the less acculturated Latino adolescents."

Perceptions on Fatherhood

What results from risky behavior is the current high level of Latino teen parents with inadequate support systems.

"Without knowing it, indirectly, what we are telling them is that baby is a mistake," Tello said. "When you tell somebody their baby is casting a shadow on that baby." This makes parenting even more difficult for teens as they

commonly deal with poverty, systematic oppression and poor educational and vocational resources, according to study featured the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences.

"Many Latino males do not have resources; they do not have support," Tello said. "And they don't many times have role models to guide them through it. That's their challenge."

Despite the disadvantages, a majority of Latino teen mothers and fathers "describe having a child as a driving force that helps them to alter their life course from a previously self-destructive one to a more productive one,"

according to an article in the AIDS Education and Prevention review.

It's something with which deLoera, Bella's father, agrees.

"I am a lot more goal-oriented, a lot more career-oriented," deLoera said. "I'm looking to get settled. We are really thinking about buying a home sometime. Not in the near future but in the next couple of years or so."

For deLoera, his family has provided not only motivation but purpose. "Between me and my wife and Bella, I have a lot more to lose," deLoera said. "It is scarier in that sense, but it also gives me a push to work harder, to get stuff done, because I have something now to really work for."