May 1, 2009—As parents and teachers know (but many teens don’t), parenthood is not all fun and games and cuddly babies who chortle happily in their prams.
A study published in the March 2004 issue of Pediatrics suggests that this is one reality parents need to explain to teens. In considering “a racially diverse group of 340 inadequately contracepting” teens who had never yet been pregnant, the researchers hoped to test the hypothesis that teen girls who take home pregnancy tests are less likely to use contraceptives and, if this is true, to find out why.
What the University of Colorado researchers found was that although the girls who took home pregnancy tests were as capable of using contraceptives as their peers, they were less likely to do so; they “were more apt to be unsure that they wanted to remain nonpregnant, principally because they were more likely to lack negative expectations about the effects of childbearing on their lives.”
Pregnancy and single-teen motherhood just didn’t seem all that terrible an option to them.
But isn’t it? Aside from discussing the minute-to-minute demands of caring for a live, fully dependent human being, both parents and teens could benefit from considering these long-term realities culled from a large body of research:
- “Families headed by young single mothers are amongst the poorest in both Britain and the USA” (Selman, 1998).
- “Because teen mothers are disproportionately poor, they are at risk of social isolation, depression, and stress” (SmithBattle, 2008; Cicchetti, Rogosch and Toth, 2006).
- “Adolescent childbearing is associated with lower educational and occupational attainment, more mental and physical health problems, inadequate social support networks for parenting, and increased risk of abuse and neglect for children born to teen mothers” (Ellis, Bates, Dodge, Fergusson, Horwood, Pettit and Woodward, 2003; Woodward and Fergusson, 1999).
- “Compared with children of older mothers, children born to adolescent mothers are at higher risk of low birth weight, limited fine motor skills, and low math and reading abilities; these children are also more likely to drop out of high school themselves” (Chandra, Martino, Collins, Elliott, Berry, Kanouse and Miu, 2008; Terry-Human, Manlove and Moore, 2005).
- “Parenting teenagers have not had time to resolve their own stages of role identity and intimacy and this places them and their children at increased risk of social and emotional delay” (Hanna, 2001; Hurlbut, McDonald Culp, Jambunathan and Butler, 1997).
- “Teenage parents have a low tolerance to infant crying, lack of patience with infants, lack of understanding of normal growth and development, preference for physical punishment, lack of nonverbal physical interaction patterns and a less than adequate home learning environment” (Hanna, 2001; Ruff, 1990; Marshall, Buckner and Powell, 1991).
- “Teen fathers often enter the labor market sooner than their counterparts because of fatherhood and ultimately earn less in their twenties than their peers” (Chandra et al., 2008; Pirog-Good, 1996).
When all factors are taken together, the message seems to be that parenthood can be extremely rewarding when one is ready for it, but that it is not for children. Parenthood is not a cure for depression, loneliness or low self-esteem.
Bill Albert is chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a private nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. In May of 2008, Gina Stepp spoke with him about teen pregnancy and the complex associated issues.
What are the issues involved in the tangled tale of teenage pregnancy?
This infographic from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy bears good news: but the U.S. still claims highest rates among Western nations.