Sarah Sands: The teenage parents might have the last laugh

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is not certain that Alfie Patten, aged 13 and looking about seven, will be a disastrous father to his daughter Maisie Roxanne. So far he has been good-natured towards the baby and keen to support her with his occasional £10 pocket money. His father, along with newspaper commentators, has expressed sentimental regrets about Alfie's loss of childhood. "He loves computer games and Manchester United," said Mr Patten. This does not actually set Alfie apart from the adult male population, who manage to squeeze in fatherhood around these twin passions.

A feature of early adolescent boys is that they are comically varied in physique. Some are almost six feet tall and hairy. Alfie is four feet and, according to some reports, his voice has not yet broken. I hastily checked the facts on the biology of male puberty.

What this dazed-looking father needs is some direction and guidance. His girlfriend, Chantelle, 15, has the authority and energy of a young Wife of Bath. She looks as if she could knock him out if he ever tries to play the stroppy teenager card. Chantelle may fit the pattern of the fertile, feckless underclass, but her aspirations are noble and poignant. She faces up to her behaviour in The Sun: "We know we made a mistake..." and takes the consequences. "We will be good, loving parents." She says that she has embarked on a "church course" and is looking for "work experience helping other young mums".

The odds are so stacked against the couple that you desperately want them to pull through. What a triumph if they ended up as smug, second-life, empty-nesters just as their worn-out, middle-class critics were dragging themselves off to antenatal classes.

Before we all start wailing about irresponsible teenage pregnancies and guest fathers, we might inspect the state of grown-up parental relationships. At least Alfie and Chantelle have the mitigation of youthful naivety when the relationship breaks up. What is Ronnie Wood's excuse?

When I showed the photograph of Alfie, Chantelle and Maisie to my veteran 16-year-old son, he accorded the boy some respect. "Imagine: you can't get a drink but you can say that you have to get home for the babysitter." he said. While the old rockers evade their responsibilities it may take the chrysalis generation to embrace them.

Of course I am being deliberately jaunty about this set-up. It takes more than a certain sweetness and hope to be a good parent. One needs patience and equilibrium and determination to provide. None of these qualities is noticeable among teenagers.

Yet Alfie and Chantelle are not Hansel and Gretel alone in the adult forest, fending for themselves. They went ahead with the birth of their baby as surrogates for a suffocatingly omnipresent parent: the state.

Within hours of the birth the judiciary waived its right to prosecution and bustling social services were promising support. Meanwhile, Alfie moved in with his in-laws, Chantelle's father, who is unemployed, and with her five brothers. The finances of bringing up a baby are irrelevant to the young couple. And since taxpayers are already supporting several banks, a little nipper isn't going to make any difference to the bill.

Unfortunately, Alfie and Chantelle have been immediately championed by the talking-dirty brigade, which sees sex education as the answer to everything. Alfie may look clueless but he worked out, first time, how everything functions. What was lacking for him and for Chantelle was not sex education but simply education.

Sarah Sands is editor in chief of British 'Reader's Digest'