The Emotional and Social Effects of Teen Pregnancy
The Problem of Teen Pregnancy
Nearly one million teens find themselves pregnant every year, and about 40% of all young women in the United States will experience at least one pregnancy before their 20th birthday (Teenage pregnancy statistics gleaned from Facts in Brief: Teen Sex and Pregnancy, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, New York, 1996).
While society tends to glamorize teen pregnancy (think Secret Life of the American Teenager, MTV's Sixteen and Pregnant , Juno, and the recent celebrity of teen mom Bristol Palin), the reality is far from spectacular.
I'm certainly not suggesting that we should ostracize young, single girls who become pregnant, as the Puritans did in the 17th century, but we also should not celebrate teen pregnancy as a goal that every young woman should try to achieve.
Why? Simply because teen pregnancy can be very painful and difficult for everyone involved.
CBS News Discussion of Teen Pregnancy Pact
The Harm to the Mother
Many teenage girls are terrified when they find out they are pregnant, unless they happen to have made a pregnancy pact, as did the girls discussed in this CBS News video.
They often don't know who to turn to. Most don't want to admit to their parents that they got pregnant, especially if their parents are particularly strict. And many may be rejected by their boyfriends if they try to talk to them about the pregnancy.
This feeling that there is nowhere to go and no one to turn to is often what causes many young women to run to the nearest abortion clinic as soon as they find out they're expecting. And if the girl doesn't choose to do that, then she is faced with a number of difficult decisions. Will she keep the baby or put it up for adoption? Will she finish school or drop out? If she does decide to keep the baby, how will she support it if she doesn't finish school? But the emotional costs of the pregnancy pale in comparison to what the physical costs could be.
Girls who get pregnant at an especially young age are at a much higher risk or running into complications simply because their bodies are not yet developed enough to support growing another life. Pregnancy is not exactly easy on any woman's body, but it can be especially difficult for a teen's.
And the fact that many teens are embarrassed about their condition or afraid of their parents' reactions may prevent some from seeking good prenatal care. This can lead to health problems for the pregnant mother like high blood pressure and anemia, and these maternal health problems could cause problems for the baby.
Some States Require an Ultrasound Before Abortion. Does Yours?
- Guttmacher Institute State Policies in Brief: Requirements for Ultrasound
Since the mid-1990s, several states have moved to make ultrasound part of abortion service provision. Here is a list of some laws and policies that have already been put in place in several states. This data is accurate as of March 1, 2013.
Abortion: Induced termination of pregnancy, involving destruction of the embryo or fetus.
Most states in the United States allow a mother to have an abortion up until about 20-24 weeks into gestation.
20-week Ultrasound Image
The Harm to the Father
Often, the ones who are getting the teenage girls pregnant are teenage boys. These boys seldom consider the consequences of their actions. They just focus on the feel-good aspect of sex. When confronted with the fact that they have created a new life, many will feel overwhelmed and may try to run from the situation. This break in the relationship could be painful for both young parents.
Those who don't run are faced with the very real task of taking care of an unplanned family. The father of a child is responsible for child support in every state in the nation. Because of this increased responsibility, many young men may feel pressured to marry the young pregnant woman, and this could also cause problems for the couple. Pressure and guilt are not good feelings with which to begin any relationship, let alone one that is supposed to last a lifetime. The feeling of being pressured into a marriage could lead to feelings of resentment later for both parties.
At least 60 percent of teen marriages end in divorce within 5 years ("Teenage Couples: Caring, Change, and Commitment", by Jeanne Warren Lindsay). Divorce hurts everyone involved, including the child that was the reason the parents got married in the first place. Children often feel responsible when their parents get divorced, and knowing that their mom and dad only got married because mom was pregnant with him/her may cause those guilt feelings to be even stronger.
The Harm to the Baby
As noted above, teen mothers often do not receive good prenatal care. As a result of this, they may not gain enough weight during their pregnancies. This lack of weight gain can cause the baby to have a low birth weight, which is associated with all sorts of problems, like developmental disorders and even a high rate of infant death.
Babies born to teen mothers are often malnourished and have limited access to decent health care. They rarely receive adequate social or cognitive stimulation. This can negatively impact their intellectual development and can lead to poor school performance later on.
Further, studies have shown that children born to teen mothers experience higher rates of abuse and neglect and often turn to crime as a way of expressing themselves and getting what they want. These children often experience troubled romantic relationships when they are older, and girls born to teen mothers are very likely to become teen mothers themselves, thus repeating the destructive pattern.
Some Teen Pregnancy Resources
The Harm to the Grandparents
Parents who receive the news that their teenage daughter (or son) is going to have a baby may feel a whole range of emotions: shock, denial, rage, and even joy that they are going to be grandparents.
But grandparents of babies born to teen mothers may also have some difficult decisions to make. How willing are they to be involved in raising the baby? Do they want their daughters and sons to continue with their schooling? If this is the case, a lot of the early child care responsibilities may fall to the grandparents.
The grandparents may also feel obligated to provide financial help, and while this might not be a bad short-term plan, the financial involvement needs to be monitored closely. The baby's mother and father may become dependent on this financial support, and it will be harder for them to learn how to support themselves and their new family.
Whatever they do, grandparents need to be supportive of both mom and dad because this is a scary situation for everyone. They also need to remember that it is not the baby's fault that this has happened, so they shouldn't take their anger out on their grandchild.
It may be difficult at times to be the only adult in such an adult situation, so grandparents need to be prepared to guide their children in their premature assumption of adult responsibility in order to keep the whole family together.
Let's Get Personal
Do you know a teen mother personally?
How Can Teen Pregnancy Be Avoided?
As bleak a picture as this hub presents of teen pregnancy, it is important to remember that this is just an example of what could happen. Many teen moms do really well for themselves and their children, with or without the support of the baby's father.
Still, it is a shame that so many young women and men are forced into assuming such an adult responsibility so early in life. It would be a good idea to teach our daughters and sons the truth about sex and the consequences it can bring. It may also be necessary to restrict their dating to public places with trusted chaperones, so that they will not be alone, where temptation can be acted upon. Teens who are not ever alone together are much less likely to have sex; therefore, they will not have to grow up too fast. They can take the time to be children themselves.