Adolescence is a time of psychological exploration. It is a period when adolescents reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, competencies, and fears. Their strengths may include self-confidence, ambition, self-esteem, and having firm convictions and strong beliefs, which can lead to reckless, boisterous, risk-taking behaviors, as well as fearlessness and excessive self-centeredness (Adams & Gullotta, 1989).
Adolescence is also considered a time of identity development and crisis (Marcia, 1980) and. egocentrism (Elkind, 1967). One form of egocentrism, the personal fable, is particularly strong in early adolescence. Thus, adolescents may believe that they are. special and not subject to the rules that govern others, in short, invulnerable (Elkind, 1967; Lapsley & Rice, 1988; Papalia & Olds, 1992). A teenager may therefore think that experimenting with drugs will not have any adverse effects. A female teenager may believe she cannot become pregnant despite having unprotected sexual intercourse, thinking "these things happen only to other people, not to me."
Adolescent pregnancy is widely recognized as one of the most complex and serious social, economic, and health problems in the United States: each year more than one million adolescents become pregnant (Forrest, Goldman, Henshaw, Lincoln, Rosoff, Westoff, & Wulf, 1993). The rate of teenage pregnancy in the U.S. is more than twice as high as the rates in England, France, and Canada, almost three times as high as in Sweden, and seven times as high as in the Netherlands (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1990). Approximately 46% of these pregnancies result in live births, 41% are aborted, and the remainder end in miscarriage or stillbirth (Baber, 1994).
Among sexually experienced youth, about 9% of 14-year-olds, 18% of 15- to 17-year-olds, and 22% of 18- to 19-year-olds become pregnant each year (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994). More teenage females become mothers than teenage males become fathers. For example, in 1988, 489,000 teenage females became mothers, but only 195,000 adolescent males became fathers. This is because the majority of the males who impregnate teenagers are not teenagers themselves; they are older men (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994; Males, 1993).
Researchers have also pointed out an association between ethnicity and teen pregnancy and parenthood (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994; Children's Defense Fund, 1988; Furstenberg, 1970; Held, 1981; Jacobs, 1994). Although recent increases in birth rates have been similar for African-American, Latino, and Anglo teenagers, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to give birth, while Anglos are more likely to have an abortion (Darabir & Ortiz, 1987; Pittman & Adams, 1988).
A recent report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (1994) noted that 60% of teenagers who became mothers were living in poverty at the time they gave birth. It was also reported that in 1988, low-income females accounted for 83% of those aged 15-19 who gave birth. This report stated that 60% of adolescents who gave birth for the first time had their delivery fees paid by public funds, usually Medicaid (in California, MediCal).
Teen pregnancy has had an enormous economic impact in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1995) reported that from 1985 to 1990, public costs for families started by teen mothers was $120.3 billion. This amount accounted only for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Medicaid/MediCal, and food stamps. It did not include government expenditures on WIC, job training, housing subsidies, subsidized school meals, special educational programs, or day-care and foster-care programs for teen mothers and their children.
The state of California has the highest incidence of teenage pregnancy in the country; in 1992, 70,996 teenagers gave birth. In Los Angeles county alone, during the same year, 13,000 teenagers became mothers (Child Trends, 1995).
Researchers have noted that teenage pregnancy interrupts a young woman's education and may even end it (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994; Marini, 1984; Mott & Maxwell, 1981; Mott & Marsiglio, 1985; Scott-Jones & Turner, 1990; Hoffman, Foster, & Furstenberg, 1993). This is likely to lead to economic dependency on the government, the father of the baby, or parents. Baber (1994) concluded that teenage pregnancy is related to poor perinatal outcomes, low educational achievement, unemployment, welfare dependency, repeat pregnancy, parenting problems, marital discord, and greater likelihood of divorce.
Children born to teen mothers are at higher risk for a variety of developmental problems, mental retardation (Whitman, Borkowski, Schellenbach, & Natti, 1987), abuse and neglect (Klein & Cordell, 1987), poverty, and social, emotional, and cognitive disabilities (Free, 1989). Adolescent mothers have been found to have less desirable childrearing practices (Klein & Cordell, 1987; Reis, Barbera-Stein, & Bennett, 1986) and less realistic expectations for their infants' development (Field, Widmayer, Stringer, & Ignatoff, 1980; Gutelius, 1970; Larsen & Juhasz, 1985; Stevens, 1984; Reis, 1989; Wattleton, 1991) than do older mothers.…