Every year, nearly half a million adolescent girls in the U.S. give birth (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). About 95% keep and raise their children, which has serious implications since adolescent parenthood and child maltreatment are linked (Coren, Barlow, & Stewart-Brown, 2003; Dukewich, Borkowski, & Whitman, 1999). Lack of both emotional maturity and parenting skills are contributing factors in this maltreatment. While teen parents express empathy and concern for their children, they often lack necessary life experiences and knowledge of child development (Weinman, Schreiber, & Robinson, 1992). Compared with older parents, teen mothers are less knowledgeable about normal developmental milestones for infants and children; display fewer and poorer quality vocalizations; are less aware of, and responsive to, their child's needs; are less inclined to engage in spontaneous play, and the give-and-take during play is of lower quality; are less likely to spend time looking at their babies; are more ambivalent about being a mother; and are more inclined to use physical punishment (Dukewich, Borkowski, & Whitman, 1999; Miller & Moore, 1990).
There are other problems associated with adolescent parenthood. For example, children born to adolescents often have low birth weights (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999; Children's Defense Fund, 1997; Mann & Hunt, 1989; Ventura, Curtin, & Mathews, 2000). Further, the majority (approximately three-fourths) are born out of wedlock (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999; Children's Defense Fund, 1998). In fact, for adolescents in the U.S., the rate of out-of-wedlock birth is higher than for any other industrialized nation (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999; Clewell, Brooks-Gunn, & Benasich, 1989; Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998; Coren, Barlow, & Stewart-Brown, 2003).
Adolescents often have inappropriate expectations of their children and favor spanking as their primary means of discipline (Bolton, 1980, as cited in Miller & Moore, 1990; Cohen, Barlow, & Stewart-Brown, 2003; O'Callaghan, Borkowski, Whitman, Maxwell, & Keogh, 1999). Lack of parenting skills is another factor that puts their children at risk for abuse and neglect (Danoff, Kemper, & Sherry, 1994; Dukewich, Borkowski, & Whitman, 1999). As noted by Bavolek (1989), parent education is often cited as an appropriate means of teaching noninjurious discipline techniques to adolescent parents.
Research has documented the effectiveness of parent education programs for adolescent mothers. Since the 1960s, family life programs have yielded positive results in terms of increasing both knowledge of child development and parent-child interaction skills among low-income families, as well as changing parental attitudes (Clewell, Brooks-Gunn, & Benasich, 1989; Coren, Barlow, & Stewart-Brown, 2003; Weinman, Schreiber, & Robinson, 1992). Such programs have also been found to increase the likelihood that teen parents will return to school and obtain significantly more education. In comparison, teen mothers who have not attended parenting classes have been found to demonstrate more dependency, greater isolation, less interest in activities, more stress raising their children, and more unrealistic expectations of their children (Clewell et al., 1989; Coren et al., 2003).
The Parenting Life Skills Center (PLSC), serving at-risk adolescents and families in a medium-sized midwestern community, offers one such program. Life skills are taught in a caring, nurturing, and accessible environment designed to improve self-worth and quality of life. In addition to attending parent education classes, participants meet weekly as a support group, are given incentives for participation in the program, and share a weekly family-style meal. The parent education curriculum follows a consistent format over a nine-month period.
The purpose of the present study was to …