Teenage pregnancy is defined as “pregnancy and parenthood” during “adolescence.” Inside the United States, it is known as a pregnancy that occurs in underage girls. Across the world, this term is used for pregnant women who have not reached legal adulthood, which varies from country to country. Teenage pregnancy can occur due to the lack of contraceptives and abortion services. It can also happen due to serious social consequences of parenting.
Teen pregnancy places enormous stress on young women and their families. They face additional medical concerns. It is a major social issue in developed countries. Poverty, low education, and peer pressure are some of the factors which lead to the incidence of teenage pregnancy.
It is estimated that 40% of young women became pregnant in their teenage years in the West (Wheeler, 2004). Young girls who are sexually assaulted or molested are also at great risk of being pregnant. Women from lower educational and income groups are also more likely to get pregnant. Further, it is also estimated that a lack of knowledge about contraceptives can also contribute to teenage pregnancy.
In other countries, teenage pregnancy is usually within marriages and is not considered a social taboo. Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures encourage early marriages, which result in teenage pregnancy. While there are no social stigmas attached in these cultures, medical risks and concerns remain. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15 to 19 in developing countries. Obstructed labor was found to be common in teenage girls, resulting in an increased risk of infant death and of maternal death or disability (Wheeler, 2004).
There is a high rate of teen pregnancy in the United States. Several campaigns have been launched in many states using sex education, sex abstinence, making contraceptives and abortion services easily available. Three out of every 40 teenagers become pregnant before the age of 20 (Evans, 2006).
African Americans and Latina women have a higher proportion of pregnancies than white women. Each year an estimated 750,000 women aged 15-19 become pregnant. Overall, 75 pregnancies occur every year per 1,000 women aged 15-19 (Evans, 2006). Consistent contraceptive use and teens delaying sexual activity are the reasons for a major decline in teen pregnancy rates.
However, while overall, there has been a major decline in teen pregnancy rates, minorities are especially more prone to become pregnant at an early age. Some African
American and Latina women have less access to contraceptives and abortion services.
Minorities belonging to poor or lower-income households are more likely to get pregnant.
Girls who are not strongly disinclined to get pregnant are fairly likely to get pregnant.
This usually occurs due to the absence of hopes for the future. Sexual abuse and violence towards children are also major factors in the rise of teenage pregnancies. Lack of contraceptives, abortion services, limited educational opportunities, low social background all contributes to teen pregnancy.
Poverty, teen sex, and abuse are the most common factors for teenage pregnancy.
Girls belonging to economically secure families rarely get pregnant. They have easy access to contraceptives, and when they do get pregnant, they opt for abortions. Some communities in the United States have seen a high teen birth rate starting from 2004. Some cities and towns like Holyoke, Chelsea, Lawrence, and Springfield have rates that are over 200 % higher than the state rate (Lindsay, 2003). Young people in these communities are struggling with poverty and have limited support. Access to sex information and contraceptives is critical to prevent this rise.
A more open attitude towards sex, comprehensive sex education, and increased support lead young people to make better and different decisions. Teenagers in the United States continue to experience substantially higher pregnancy rates and birth rates as compared with teens in other developed countries. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States is twice that in Canada and Great Britain and four times that in France and Sweden (Lindsay, 2003). While teen birth rates have declined in the United States, compared with other developed countries, it is still less steep. The reasons for this are that teenagers in the United States are more sexually active and a large proportion of its residents live in poor and appalling conditions.
Pregnancy and childbearing can be difficult for any young person because of the enormous responsibilities and challenges associated with both. If you are not ready to have a child, there are ways to prevent pregnancy. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only sure way to keep from getting pregnant. However, if you are sexually active, you can use birth control to reduce the risk of becoming pregnant. There are many forms of birth control: methods include condoms, the pill, the patch, the shot, and the ring.
The Netherlands has the lowest teen pregnancy rate in West Europe. Getting pregnant at an early age is a social stigma in that country. Contraception is actively encouraged by Dutch doctors. The acceptability of abortion has also led to a low teen pregnancy rate (Roles, 2004).
Dutch society also encourages an open environment where children can freely talk about sex at home and school. Dutch parents expect their children to behave responsibly to deal with sex. The Dutch attitude has smashed the myth that openness encourages sex (Roles, 2004).
The Dutch government has successfully implemented a sex education program that is working and has made remarkable strides in keeping a low teen pregnancy rate. It is their belief that that open sex education leads to improved sexual health through more competent interactions.
The United States, on the other hand, does not have a national policy for sex education. There is also great variation in many states, with the subject of abortion not taught in many schools. Peer Pressure contributes towards having sex at a young age. There is much confusion in the United States due to mixed cultural attitudes towards sex, the rise of Christian fundamentalism, and the glorification of sex in Hollywood. This is the reason that although there is a sharp decline in teen pregnancy in many parts of the US, a large number of poor people, minorities, rape victims continue to face the problem of teen pregnancy.
Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, and Slovenia are the four countries with the lowest teen pregnancy rate. A moderate pregnancy rate is found in Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, New Zealand, Scotland, and the Slovak Republic (Roles, 2004).
Conditions for the developing world are more appalling since more than one million infants, and 700,000 teen mothers die each year. The ten highest-risk countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. Niger, Liberia, and Mali top the list. Other countries with high-risk scores outside of Africa include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Yemen (Roles, 2004).
Many organizations have appealed to the United Nations and international community to increase funding for child education, survival, primary health care facilities, maternal health, and family planning programs and increase support for sex education.
Education is the key to help delay early marriage and motherhood. Due to limited educational and career opportunities in developing countries, girls are pressured or forced to marry at an early marriage. Girls who obtain education tend to marry later and have children later. This decreases the chances of medical concerns which occur in teen mothers. Adult girls have much better knowledge and education about contraceptives and abortion.
Pregnant teenagers have a higher risk of premature labor, anemia, preeclampsia, and low-weight babies. Premature labor starts three weeks before the due date. It results in contractions, backache, pressure, pain, periods like cramps, discharge from the vagina, or decreased movement of the baby (Perry, 2001).
Teen mothers also carry the risk of developing swelling, high blood pressure, and protein in their urine during pregnancy. The symptoms are called toxemia and include swelling, weight gain, headaches, less urine, feeling sick, and high blood pressure.
Low-weight babies are common amongst teen mothers. This can cause serious problems in the vital organs of the baby. Pregnancy also puts strain on a teenager’s body. Bone development is retarded because of early pregnancy. If the teen mother is suffering from any sexually transmitted disease, then it can easily spread to the baby. This can cause serious medical problems for the newborn child. Low birth weight and prematurity raise the probability of a number of adverse conditions, including infant death, blindness, deafness, mental retardation, and cerebral palsy (Perry, 2001).
Children born to teenage mothers are at a greater risk of social neglect and abuse in developed countries. They are also more prone to drug and sexual abuse. Further, they can even risk becoming teen mothers themselves. They also perform poorly in school and thus have limited opportunities for their future. Children born from teen mothers increase their chances of living on welfare and have a high divorce rate. Teen mothers themselves have a high school dropout rate.
Teenage mothers rely on welfare due to school dropouts and limited employment opportunities. Teen pregnancies take a heavy toll in the United States due to the high cost of public assistance and health care (Perry, 2001).
An open relationship is key to preventing teen pregnancy. Children who have a special connection with their parents and are supervised by them are less likely to become pregnant. Effective parental monitoring, which consists of routines and responsibilities, has been shown to ensure as having a protective factor. Monitoring has been shown to help in delaying sex, abstaining from sex, or having fewer sexual partners. Parental rejection can lead to teens seeking relationships outside the family. Parents engaged in early birth affairs and permissive attitudes towards sex lead to teens more likely having unprotected sex. This leads to the risk of pregnancy. An adolescent is more likely to become pregnant at an early age due to such parental models. Genetic and biological factors also play an influence on teen sexual behavior. Hormone levels and early onset of puberty have their origins in genes. Mothers who have sex at a young age increase the chances of children having sex before age 14 (Perry, 2001).
Sexual behavior in teens is also influenced by factors in school. Successful students are less likely to engage in unprotected sex and have unwanted pregnancies. Students having goals, objectives, hopes, and brighter opportunities are more likely to use contraceptives, have sex later and abstain from risky sexual behavior.
There is a strong correlation between teen pregnancy and sexual abuse. Abused females may try to develop relationships using sexual intimacy. Sexually abused teens belonging to minorities are at a greater risk of becoming pregnant. African Americans and Latinas have sex earlier than Caucasians and more prone to become pregnant.
Teens that engage in irresponsible social behavior like drugs or suffer from emotional problems are more at risk of engaging in unprotected sex and becoming pregnant. An environment that encourages irresponsible social behavior increases the likelihood of teen pregnancy. Social inhibitions are further removed by drugs and alcohol. Biological and social reasons increase the desire to engage in sex, intimacy, and love (Roles, 2004).
Teen sexual behavior is influenced by beliefs and skills. Teens having negative views about pregnancy view it negatively, have a clear understanding of its negative aspects, health risks, and more likely to use contraception. Teens with multiple sex partners are less inclined to use contraceptives, and those who initiate sex earlier are more likely to become pregnant at an early age (Roles, 2004).
US culture plays a significant role in teen pregnancy. Young children are subjected to sexual messages. Violent movies, songs, books, games with sexually explicit content make an important contribution in initiating early sexual behavior and teen pregnancy. Education can play an important role in minimizing the effects of poverty and early parenting. Support programs have been helpful in training and providing knowledge to teens.
Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms are available in most pharmacies, supermarkets, convenience stores, and health centers, and you don’t need parental permission to purchase them. Emergency contraception is the only method that can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex if your birth control fails or none was used at all.
The United States has been pursuing a comprehensive program to reduce teen pregnancy. There are two schools of thought. One believes in emphasizing abstaining from sex while the other advocates a comprehensive sexual education program for adolescents. Proponents of the first school of thought believe that moral values can affect teen behavior. They have a negative view of comprehensive sex education which they believe promotes promiscuity. Those advocating a comprehensive sex education believe in the right of every adolescent to be educated about protected sex (Daguerre, 2001).
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States emphasizes that comprehensive sexuality education should cover “sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles” (Elia, 341). Such programs provide information about the risks of sexual activity, ways to avoid intercourse, and use contraceptives. They also use approaches that have a profound influence on other health-related behaviors (Daguerre, 2001).
Comprehensive sex education programs give tips on teens to resist peer pressure that influences sexual behavior. They teach participants about communication skills. Several teaching methods and materials are used to educate the students. Trained teachers and peer leaders are used to properly educate the teens. Some researchers have found that comprehensive sex education programs have helped in reducing unprotected sex and teen pregnancies.
Abstinence-only sexuality education programs have also found financial support in the United States through legislation. These programs focus on the social, psychological, physiological, and health benefits of abstinence. They teach that abstinence protects children from negative consequences (Lindsay, 2003).
These programs also advocate that abstinence is the expected moral standard for unmarried individuals. They also teach how to resist unwanted school behavior and highlight the risks of drug and alcohol abuse. They emphasize attaining financial independence through education and career growth, which would, in turn, lead to healthy family life (Lindsay, 2003).
Abstinence-only sex education has been found to be helpful for younger children and teaching them how to resist unwanted sexual advances. It also provides support for teens who do not want to have sex. These programs offer positive support for adolescents who abstain from sex.
Abstinence-only sex education programs have been increased due to pressure from Christian fundamentalist groups. These groups believe that pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy are negative effects of modern society. Such groups believe that sexual abstinence is the moral standard for unmarried individuals. They also believe that comprehensive sex education programs promote promiscuity.
The great majority of Americans believe that teen pregnancies are a serious national problem, indeed a problem that is the major component of what is thought to be national moral decline. There is less agreement, however, on what we as a nation should do about it. The options range from reestablishing cultural norms, such as a strict moral ban on sexual intercourse before marriage, to comprehensive sex education in our schools, to improving the life options of disadvantaged young people, to the practice of “safe sex” through the placing of contraceptives in the purses and wallets of every teenager.
Under modern conditions, teen pregnancies are considered not a blessing but a curse. This is so because most of the children of these pregnancies will grow up fatherless and at high risk themselves for various social and behavioral problems, the education and work lives of their mothers will be seriously impaired, and the welfare and social costs to the nation will be great (Lindsay, 2003).
With its very high teen pregnancy rate, the United States is seriously out of line with other developed nations. Each year in this country, almost one million teenagers become pregnant, and approximately four in ten girls become pregnant at least once before reaching the age of twenty. This is twice the rate found in the next highest nation, Great Britain, and nearly ten times the rates found in Japan and the Netherlands.
Although the teen pregnancy rate in the United States has dropped some in the past few years, it is still substantially higher than in the early 1970s, and the drop should not deflect us from grappling with this urgent national problem. Indeed, with many so-called baby boom echo children now entering their teenage years, the total number of teen pregnancies is expected to increase significantly over the next decade.
Perhaps the most alarming trend associated with teen pregnancy concerns the decline of marriage. In 1960, a time of marriage at younger ages and more restricted sexuality, the percentage of unmarried teen births was only 15%. Since then, the increase in out-of-wedlock births has been staggering. Today, some 80% of teen pregnancies and 75% of teen births are to unmarried girls. These girls typically lack the maturity, skills, and assistance that are necessary for good parenting.
Schools are the most logical catalyst for generating a proactive approach to adolescent pregnancy. No other social institution has sufficient access to teenagers to have the necessary impact. Schools are capable of setting up networks and helping families deal with the situation, all while meeting the students’ educational needs.
Many students also have important relationships with their teachers or other school staff. Schools can create a safe environment where young people can explore questions of sexuality in a responsible manner.
Students learn to understand the consequences of their choices rather than acting according to messages from peers or the media. Schools can develop policies and programs to address both primary prevention, to result in fewer pregnant teenagers, and secondary prevention, to result in healthier infants, fewer school dropouts, and more teenage parents graduating from high school and acquiring jobs that enable them to support their new families (Luker, 2004).
The consequences of teenage pregnancy are both far-reaching and cyclical, with implications for the education, health, and well-being of both the young parents and their offspring. Educational consequences of teenage pregnancy and parenting are twofold: young mothers and fathers are at high risk of not gaining the educational skills necessary to be self-supporting, economically productive citizens, and their children often enter the educational system with economic and developmental disadvantages (Luker, 2004).
Youth with poor basic skills, regardless of race or ethnicity, are more than three times as likely to be teen parents as are students with average or better basic skills. Pregnancy and parenting are the number one reasons females cite for dropping out of school.
Providing special programs for teenage mothers and their children dramatically increases high school graduation rates for this population of students. Decision-makers at all levels need to be aware of the true numbers, circumstances, and needs of parenting adolescents within their community and within individual systems (Luker, 2004).
Adolescent parents and their children are a highly vulnerable population, yet they are not highly visible within most public systems. In most communities, the total number of parenting teens or of the young children of teen parents is not known. Very often, the number of parenting teens in a community is assumed to be the number of teen births in a given year (Luker, 2004).
Parents are reluctant to be vocal about demanding services for their pregnant daughters. The school nurse may try to be an advocate, but school nurses may not be school employees, so they may not have much authority. Because most student record systems generally do not identify parenting students, teen parents can get lost within the general student population.
Furthermore, adolescent pregnancy frequently goes unrecognized when students drop out of school without giving reasons. These young people may not have access to available services because of their own intimidation or lack of knowledge. Additionally, a gap between the number of parenting teens in the community and those known to be enrolled in public school programs creates the need for identification and outreach.
Pregnant and parenting teens face significant barriers to academic achievement, largely because traditional school programs often conflict with the demands of pregnancy and child-rearing. The younger the single-parent mother, the less likely she is to finish high school (Luker, 2004).
While the dominant trend in school policies affecting pregnant and parenting students has been what is called “mainstreaming,” this may not meet the unique needs of this population. According to one national study, teen mothers who attended vocational programs that serve as special programs for pregnant teens were almost twice as likely as similar teen mothers in regular schools to graduate (Luker, 2004).
Some characteristics of effective alternative programs for pregnant and parenting teens include small class sizes, nurturance, personalized guidance, and mentoring. Teen mothers need what all teens need, only more so: close adult attention, guidance, and support, which is often not available for pregnant girls in regular schools.
The most poorly performing students in regular schools are often the ones who reap the greatest benefits from alternative schools or specialized programs. When it comes to postponing rapid childbearing, a single-sex environment may also help as it may reduce the pressure to resume dating during an emotionally vulnerable period. Studies evaluating the effectiveness of postpartum comprehensive, multidisciplinary programs for adolescent mothers suggest that “young women receiving care in special adolescent-oriented postpartum programs are more compliant with contraceptives prescriptions, postpone second pregnancies for a longer time, and are less likely to drop out of high school and become welfare dependent than young mothers receiving medical care in other settings.
Teenagers’ choices to become sexually active and to use contraception, as well as their ability to obtain and use contraception if this choice is made, are influenced by many factors. These factors operate at the individual level, intrafamilial level, extra-familial level, and the community level (Luker, 2004).
The most important role for physicians is to provide appropriate sexual health information and services in their practices if they are providing clinical services to youths. Physicians must recognize the reality of teenage sexual activity. As part of the general inquiry into their wellbeing, physicians should ask all teenagers about their sexual activity, use of condoms and contraception, history of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, and the need for information about other sexual health concerns. Discussions about sexual health issues may not always be initiated by the adolescent, for whom the process of seeking sexual health advice is a complicated one, and therefore physicians must be proactive in making such an inquiry.
It is also very important for the mother to take her prenatal vitamins daily and keep all visits to the doctor. Sometimes it is very complicated to go through a pregnancy if a teen. Doctors must make sure that they go to every check-up to keep track of the growth of the fetus. Generally, the physician will stress the importance of this as well. The mother should take care of herself mentally and physically when she is a pregnant teen who can be a huge task. It is almost vital that they have someone there to help. A lot of time, that is the family of the pregnant teen (Luker, 2004).
When contraception, including emergency contraception, is indicated for teenagers, it should be provided. Like other women, adolescents also have a right to abortion services, although the availability of such services is not uniform across the country, and teenaged girls of low socioeconomic status or from visible minorities have particularly limited access. Teenagers have the right to confidential health care, including receiving sexual health services, provided their emotional and cognitive maturity allow for this (Luker, 2004).
In recent years, the United States has had the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy of any of the world’s developed nations. However, since 1991 these rates have declined dramatically. Pregnancy rates among 15- to 19-year-olds declined 27% from 1991 to 2000, and birth rates dropped 33% between 1991 and 2003 (Lindsay, 2003).
The pattern of decline in US birth rates among adolescents is considerably different from the pattern in non-English-speaking European countries, where adolescent pregnancy rates peaked between 1965 and 1980 and then dropped dramatically. Little of the decline in Europe seems attributable to delay in initiation of sexual intercourse, given that the median age at initiation has fallen since 1965, indicating that more teens were having sex. In fact, the age at which young people initiate sexual activity has become increasingly similar across developed countries (Lindsay, 2003).
Reductions in adolescent pregnancy rates are the result of shifts in 2 key underlying behaviors: sexual activity and contraceptive use. Between 1971 and 1988, the age at sexual initiation among US teenagers became increasingly younger, as demonstrated by increases in the proportion of adolescents who had ever experienced coitus. At the beginning of the 1990s, this trend reversed, and declines in early sexual experience have since been documented in both school-based and household surveys (Lindsay, 2003).
Social conservatives in the United States have ascribed much of the recent decline in adolescent pregnancy rates to increased abstinence from sexual intercourse. While recent data shows that the U.S. teen pregnancy rates are falling, the United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western industrialized world, with thirty-five percent of young women becoming pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20 — about 850,000 a year. Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school (only one-third receive a high school diploma), and only 1.5% have a college degree by age 30.
Federal government funding for abstinence-only education in the United States has grown rapidly since 1998, despite a lack of scientific evidence in support of these programs and concerns about their informational content and ethical acceptability.
In addition, the federal government, through its foreign aid programs, has vigorously promoted abstinence as a means of preventing HIV infection among adolescents.
There is a strong consensus in the European study countries as well as Canada that childbearing belongs in adulthood, generally considered to be when young people have completed their education, have become employed and independent from their parents, and are living in stable relationships (Lindsay, 2003).
For adults in the United States, on the other hand, the fact that young people are having sex is more often considered to be, per se, the “problem.” Moreover, the United States is the only country with formal policies directing state and federal funds toward educational programs that have as their sole purpose the promotion of abstinence. Over one-third (35%) of all local U.S. school districts that have policies on sexuality education require that abstinence be taught as the only appropriate option for unmarried people and that contraception either be presented as ineffective in preventing pregnancy or not be covered at all (Lindsay, 2003).
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Evans, Roy (2006). Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood . US: Routledge.
Lindsay, Jeanne Warren (2003). Your Pregnancy & Newborn Journey: A Guide for Pregnant Teens. US: Morning Glory Press.
Luker , Kristin (2004). Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy. US: Harvard University Press.
Perry, Linda Ellen (2001). How To Survive Your Teen’s Pregnancy: Practical Advice for a Christian Family. US: Chalfont House.
Roles , Patricia (2004). Facing Teenage Pregnancy: A Handbook For The Pregnant Teen. US: CWLA Press.
Wheeler , Dorrie Williams (2004). The Unplanned Pregnancy Book for Teens and College Students . US: Sparkledoll Productions.