When I think back on my years as a teenager, they are, for the most part, filled with happy memories of school, friends and special family moments. I can’t begin to comprehend the fear and despair a teenage girl feels when she learns she is pregnant. I also remember that, despite having many good memories, the teenaged years are a time of uncertainty, learning and growing, angst ridden to the nth degree. The simplest things can seem insurmountable at that age, so facing something as life changing as an unexpected pregnancy must be devastatingly difficult.
It’s normal to make mistakes, especially when we are teenagers trying to figure out what life is all about and finding our way. Unfortunately, a mistake like pregnancy can have lifelong consequences when the decision is made to have and keep the baby, which teens do approximately half the time. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, out of the thousands of teenagers in the US who become pregnant each year, 14 percent of pregnancies end by miscarriage and 26 percent in abortion, leaving over 59 percent, or approximately 300,000 in 2012, children born to teen mothers — children having children.
I imagine that facing angry parents is one of those pee in your pants moments as a pregnant teen, as everyone deals with the serious implications of such a discovery. More often than not, pregnant teenagers face such deep disappointment from their parents that family relationships are strained, even damaged. And, unfortunately, the challenges from that point forward just get harder, as teen mothers are generally reliant on family for financial support, help with caretaking, even transportation as most teens do not even have their own vehicles yet.
When teen mothers have little to no support from their fathers or from other adults, there’s a high probability that they will raise their children as single parents in poverty and rely on welfare for support. For many teen mothers who fail to complete school, long-term reliability on the welfare system is all too common.
According to Kids Having Kids, a study of economic costs and social consequences of teen pregnancy, only about 20 to 30 percent of teen mothers will marry the baby’s father, and child support from nonresident fathers is low at about one-fifth. Of the mothers on welfare, only a third of the fathers had regular contact at the time their child was born and that rate declined considerably as time passed.
Many times, the perpetuation of unplanned teen pregnancies runs through generations, as daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves. Add to that the startling statistic that nearly one in five births to teens in 2012 were subsequent births — another baby makes life even harder for young mothers.
In this modern day and age, why are teens failing to understand the consequences of unprotected sex? Or is it as simple as teens will be teens? Are hormones and peer pressure winning out in the end, leaving our teenage girls in trouble?
Or, since the instances of teen pregnancy are higher in areas of high poverty — known for inferior housing, poor schools and limited health services — is it a matter of survival with more urgent issues at play? At the end of the day, does the violence of gangs, drugs and crime rule? Is practicing unprotected sex of little consequence when other more important needs arise, like staying alive?
Great strides have been made and the rate of teen pregnancies has steadily declined over the past 20 years. That alone is a success story. Yet, the sheer number of infants being brought into this world by mothers who are by definition children themselves still seems overwhelming.
Despite the falling rates of teen pregnancies across all ethnicities in the US, we still have a rate more than twice as high as other advanced countries and many times over than that of the Netherlands and Japan. Why? Our children’s health and quality of life is of great importance and considered a priority by the US Department of Health & Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, legislation was passed to provide a stream of federal funding exclusively for teen pregnancy prevention initiatives.
Hopefully, with continued effort from our government, states, local communities, schools and parents, we will bring the US in line with other countries. Together, we will find a way for our children to stay children.