Teen Pregnancy and Its Effects
Teen pregnancy is often dubbed a “social ill” or “problem” in modern American society. While few would argue this point, that is, pregnancy amongst our youth is not the most desirable of happenings, some might urge it can have some beneficial consequences as well. Make no mistake about it, the negatives seem to far outweigh the positives more often than not, but the fact remains, in at least some cases there are some positives to be found.
The rates of teenage sexual activity are one that calls for alarm. Klein (2005) found that “ currently, more than 45% of high school females and 48% of high school males have had sexual intercourse” (p. 281). The teen pregnancy epidemic is one of a cyclic nature. The Guttmacher Institute reported “almost 750,000 teenage women aged 15-19 become pregnant” (p. 2). It tends to start a cycle that once begun, seems to perpetuate itself without end. Many teenage mothers today were children of teenage parents themselves and have increased the probability that their own children will have children at an early age. So why is this? Perhaps some intrinsic trait built deep within their genetic coding. Maybe it is something in their environment. Still it is something about the lifestyle that follows a teenage pregnancy and the conditions in which they most often happen.
In an attempt to gain a better understanding of how the process of teenage pregnancy impacts the mother and the father, the student found one such couple and interviewed them to gain an inside perspective. This allowed the student to step outside of preconceived notions and literature on the matter and see things through the eyes of people who actually lived it. What the student uncovered, though a mixture of good and bad, was not at all surprising.
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In speaking with a woman, now 38, who had her first child at the age of 15, the student learned the trials of her youth and how being pregnant at such an early age impacted and changed her life in many ways. She was extremely quick to point out how her pregnancy drove her to lose touch with most of her friends. She recalled, “We had little in common at that point.” It was this lack of familiarity with pregnancy that drove a wedge between her and her peers. She found she now had a much greater deal in common with older women.
She also spoke to the student about how she was forced to grow and mature much quicker than would otherwise have been the case. “With a child to care for I could not be acting like a child myself,” she said. As she spoke to the student about this, the student could sense mixed feelings about it in her voice. On one hand, she was saddened by the “Loss of her youth,” but also seemed to have an understanding the benefits of not acting childish and as some would call it, foolish.
Another factor was the way she was viewed by the community. Being from a small town, word quickly spread and rumors began to fly. As is usually the case, she, the woman, was viewed as a slut or tramp. It was assumed that she was reckless and would have another child in a short period of time. Although this was not her case, it is a frequent occurrence. Klein (2005) stated that “Once a teenager has had 1 infant, she is at an increased risk of having another. Approximately 25% of adolescent births are not first births” (p. 282). While she claims she never let it get to her, the student got the impression she tried her best to make herself believe it did not hurt when in fact it did. This simply makes her human, but she seems to have a different view. She appeared to the student, to be the type of person who feels this is weakness and she does not want to be weak.
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In interviewing the father, her husband yet today, the student experienced a glance into the male world. For him, the biggest sacrifice was giving up the things in school he loved to do. Always an athlete, he had been involved in multiple sports since his early childhood. “With a child to provide for I had to find more time to work, sports had to take a step back in my life,” he told the student. While he did curb his athletic appetite he did not fast altogether. He still made time for football and baseball, his two favorites.
He too spoke to the student about the social acceptance or lack there of he experienced. “I had it rough, but nothing like she did,” he said. “I mostly got teased about being a daddy.” He told the student he never let it get to him either; he just let it roll off him. For him the growing up early was a blessing. He had been into drinking a bit and found himself pushing the boundaries of “boys being boys” and “recklessness”. It was becoming a father and taking on new responsibilities that may have saved him from a much worse fate.
While he does feel he missed out on some things he would liked to have done; he also feels as though he was able to reap some rewards from it all. Since the child, obviously, fast tracked the relationship it could be said, it was the child who led to the marriage, a bond they still keep strong today. “For that, I am truly blessed,” he told the student, with a small tear in his eye, “I cannot imagine what life would be like for me if things had played out differently, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
What the student found in the interviews, was that there is a light at the end of what, can at times, seem like a very dark tunnel. The couple the student spoke with had been married for over 20 years and is now extremely happy and successful. Unfortunately, this is simply not the norm in America for people who have similar experiences. The interview showed the warm
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and fuzzy side of teenage pregnancy, when it “all works out” in the end. But there is another side to this matter and it is more complex and difficult to wrap your mind around.
In order to fully understand the situation, it is necessary to begin by breaking it down. First we must examine the mother. Most teenage mothers are girls who grew up in households that offered them freedoms and limitlessness, not found in all homes. Klein (2005) reported the following:
“There are several predictors of sexual intercourse during the early adolescent year, including: early pubertal development, a history of sexual abuse, poverty, lack of attentive and nurturing parents, cultural and family patterns of early sexual experience, lack of school or career goals, substance abuse, and poor school performance or dropping out of school. (p. 281)
These factors can be found on both sides of the social scale. One example might be, the daughter of a wealthy and successful business family, who are, addicted to work and success, but devote little time and energy to their children. This leaves the children well funded and with an abundance of unsupervised free time, with which to explore the world and their sexuality. Another example would be an impoverished family where the parents struggle to make ends meet and take the edge off in the evenings with television rather than family time. The children, though less financially secure still have little to no parental interference in their lives, leaving them ultimately free to do as they please.
Psychologists are quick to point to the lack of a male influence or love in these children. When dad isn’t there, they turn to other forms of male attention which often rears its head in the form of an interested young male. There they find the male attention they crave, so
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much, and in most cases the young girls are willing to do nearly anything to retain that attention and the love they feel from it. In most cases, the attention is real but with malicious intentions and the love is an illusion conjured up in the mind of the young girls. They want to feel love and so they perceive lust and hormonal impulses to mean just that.
This leads to the father. Young teenage men are interested in girls and also quite interested in sex. It is not a stretch, to conclude, they are interested in one simply as a means to the other. However, not unlike the women who concoct a false sense of love, the men also feel a love. The love many of them feel is the love of sex, not the young woman with whom they are having it. They often lead themselves to believe they love the girl, but in reality they love having sex and they do not want to lose it. Most young men feel as though they have worked too hard to get it, as most of their lives have been a quest for sex, since about 13, and they are afraid it may take too long to find another willing partner. While this doesn’t cast the most glamorous of lights over the young men of America, this is by and large the reality of the society we live in.
Now, having a handle on the players its time to begin understanding the game. Each participant, the mother and the father, is looking to gain something from their relationship. The female is looking for a male focal piece in her life and the male is looking to act on the impulses rushing through his mind. They each get what they are looking for. In most cases, this would make the situation seem like a winner, but there is another person in this equation when a pregnancy arises, the child. This is covered later in greater detail when we examine the effects of teenage pregnancy. It must also be questioned if either the mother or the father is really, truly, getting what they seek in all of this. From a short term stand point, yes, they are,
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but most would agree there is more to life than today. The decisions, made at an early age, can have long lasting consequences that impact the rest of our lives. In the event a pregnancy doesn’t occur, it is not out of line to assume the relationship was a success, despite the fact each is basically using the other to fulfill his or her own desires. These are not the situations being examined. It is the cases where a child is conceived that are of interest.
At this point, what happens to the hopes and dreams of the mother? She is now pregnant and attending high school, where the other youth are usually not going to make her feel overly comfortable. She is different from the majority and anyone who has gone through high school, will report that this is a case where different is seldom a good thing to be. As a result, many mothers don’t finish high school. King (2005) states “The teenage mother is less likely to complete her education and more likely to be dependent on government-funded programs” (p. 27). Few, if any, of her friends can now relate to her, so she is left feeling isolated and alone, which can lead to forms of depression. It is unlikely she can turn to a parent, as it is usually a lack of parental involvement that allowed her to get herself into such a situation in the first place. So, who is she to turn to? She doesn’t know what to do, think or how to handle any of the things that are happening to her body and she has little to no support to help get her through all of this. King (2005) reported “The child is more likely to receive in adequate parenting since the mother is too young to cope with the demands of parenting and the demands of her situation” (p. 27). Most people can only imagine the situation, but it doesn’t seem to be a pleasant one at all.
Often times, she may turn to another adult in the community like a grandparent or a teacher. Someone who recognizes the struggle ahead for the young woman and sees she is in
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desperate need of someone to lean on. It might be asked “Where is the father in all of this?” and that is a good question. Remember, though, he was just looking for the sex and a girlfriend, he didn’t sign on for a kid and growing up. Unfortunately, the father is rarely around in cases of teenage pregnancy.
You can see where it is easy to focus on the negatives of the whole ordeal, but there are small glimmers of light in the vast darkness. Having a child is an experience, forcing the hand of the mother to mature fast and grow into an adult quickly. While the argument can be made, this is robbing her of her youth, it is also clear she is learning about life very early and will be able to understand things at a much higher level. It is unlikely she will be out drinking, doing drugs, and having promiscuous sex. Not to imply this would or would not have happened regardless, but for many these are habits of their youth. Is it really a bad thing to miss out on this? It is unlikely, that a life would by ruined by forgoing these sinful delights. Most responsible parents and guardians attempt to get their youth engaged in sports or other activities to occupy their time and keep them from just these types of things.
The father will experience many of the same types of things in his own life. Scrutiny from fellow classmates and endless teasing about his situation, are sure to follow the discovery of his involvement. It is hard to argue, the burden on the young male is even equivocal to that placed on the mother. His body is experiencing no changes and he is free to make a choice to either be involved or to cut and run. While it is clear, which is, the better of the two choices, what is best is seldom the easiest. Unfortunately, easy choice will win out most of the time. Assuming he is to elect to distance himself from the situation, there is little impact on him at all. He will,
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most likely, have some internal conflict of some sort and at least a small level of guilt about what he did and what he is going to do.
In the interest of covering all angles, it is necessary to examine the father. Klein (2005) found that “adolescent fathers are similar to adolescent mothers: they are more likely than their peers who are not fathers to have poor academic performances, higher school drop out rates, limited financial resources, and decreased income potential” (282). Then there is the father who stands by his actions and honors his responsibility as a father. He will, most likely, have to find a way to fund this event either through working himself or perhaps assistance from his family. He, too, will then be losing his youth. He may not have the opportunity to go out drinking with his friends, go to parties or other things that guys his age are going to. In this case, he is making some definite changes to his life and altering the course of it, but it is hard to say all of these changes are negative. Responsibility and maturation are not evils. While there is something unsettling about him growing up at 15, it is not without benefit, much like in the case of the mother.
Then there is the child. He or she will have some obstacles to overcome and will also reap some rewards. Undoubtedly, when he or she grows up and friends realize the age difference, between their friend and his or her parents, some teasing is going to ensue. There will also be some difficult questions asked and the child is unlikely to have the answers to them. The status of the child, in all of this, depends heavily on the parent’s choices. In the event that dad stuck around and they are making a go at being a family, there may be some kind of a home life. Unfortunately for most, the stress of making ends meet leads to the second type
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of girl’s family talked about in the beginning. This is where the cycle begins to repeat itself. Teenagers trying to become adults rarely works out with happy endings. Not to say it is impossible, just not the most probable outcome. It is more likely they struggle through life financially and there will be some tension in the relationship. Together, because of the child and not because of love, the two proceed down a somewhat rocky path. This is, occasionally, shifted to the child and when he or she matures, they go through a period of questioning their situation and asking if they are to blame for everything they see, hear, and experience at home.
In the rare cases where a happy family is born, the child does reap some benefits. With younger parents, they tend to have much more in common and find it extremely easy to relate to their parents on a “friend” level, opposed to the subordinate relationship that many other kids have with their parents. As they age, the child will feel more comfortable coming to their parents and asking questions, which can lead to a less troubled life for them. They then take what they gain from talking with their parents and share their friends, who may or may not have as open of a relationship with their own parents. Unfortunately, this is not the most prevalent situation or result in such cases, but it is a fine ending to a book that by most accounts started out rather poorly. In such instances, the cycle is seemingly broken. In cases where there isn’t such a happy ending, the child is at risk for potential problems. Thomas (2007) reported “children born to teenage mothers are at a developmental disadvantage compared with children born to older mothers (p. 173). Aside from potential cognitive troubles, there are many physiological risks. Thomas (2007) stated “teenage mother’s offspring are more likely to be preterm and low birth weight, which places them at greater risk for serious long-term illnesses or dying during the first year of life (174).
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The point is that while there are some serious problems with teen pregnancy it is not without at least a few happy endings. While they are few and much farther between than we would like to see, the fact remains they are there. Under the proper circumstances things can end well for all parties involved.
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Jossi, F. (2005). Sharp decline in teen pregnancy prompts researchers to ponder what works. Contemporary Sexuality, 39(9), 1-6. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from EBSCO Academic Search Premier database.
King, D. (2005). Teenage birth rates. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 20(2), 27-28. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from EBSCO Academic Search Premier database.
Klein, J. (2005). Adolescent pregnancy: current trends and issues. Pediatrics, 116(1), 281-286. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from EBSCO Academic Search Premier database.
Markovitz, B.P. (2005). Socioeconomic factors and adolescent pregnancy outcomes: distinctions between neonatal and postnatal deaths. BMC Public Health, 5(79), 742-743. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from EBSCO Academic Search Premier database.
Teen birth rate falls, over u.s. births increase. (2005). National Health, 35(10), 7. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from EBSCO Academic Search Premier database.
Thomas, C. (2007). Effects of teen pregnancy prevention program on teens’ attitudes toward sexuality: a latent modeling approach. Developmental Psychology, 43(1),
173-185. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from EBSCO Academic Search Premier database.