"Parenting" Teenage Parents: A Clinician's Notes

Article excerpt

Understanding and serving families takes tremendous intelligence, humility, patience, optimism, and commitment. For many, remaining current with the literature is an additionally daunting and exhausting experience in and of itself. However, it is likely that you believe that part of the knowledge, part of the inspiration, part of the constant re-energizing necessary to directly or indirectly assist parents and their children comes from reading journal articles. This faith has probably come from your having been professionally reinvigorated by academic annals. Perhaps ideas and data excite you, or you enjoy having your professional intuitions validated by others. Maybe you are motivated to combat the inevitable naivete of intellectuals who publish in such auspicious outlets. Maybe the authority inherent in many journals provide you with the security and confidence necessary to work in the field of applied family studies. Most likely, all of these reasons keep you reading, thinking, and growing professionally.

Preceding this commentary are two reports of interesting investigations into the lives of teenage parents (see this issue of Family Relations: McCarthy, Sundby, Merladet, & Luxenberg, p. 107-112 and Dalla & Gamble, p. 113-121) . Herein, my reactions as a scientist-practitioner to these research reports are offered as a case study of the re-vitalization process that can be sparked by reading. In 1990, I had the opportunity to design and help implement Fathers and Children Together Support Service (FACTSS), a series of school-based programs for adolescent fathers, their children, and partners. That work was inspired, in part, from my having read Young unwed fathers: Research review, policy dilemmas and options by Smollar and Ooms (1988). Although I have remained an active reader, researcher, and practitioner in family studies, it has been a few years since I have worked directly with adolescent parents. Reading the preceding articles has re-awakened these interests.

Why is teenage parenthood a vital social concern?

Although bearing children during adolescence may have been optimal at prior points in human history, the circumstances under which this remains true are increasingly diminishing (Lancaster & Hamburg, 1986). At the end of the twentieth century, the resources members of industrialized societies must invest in their children's development and their own occupational maturation continue to grow substantially. Adolescent childrearing necessitates diverting resources to another before these premature parents have themselves achieved a secure footing of independence and self-sufficiency. Consequently, adolescent pregnancy increases the chances that a host of problems will ensue. For younger compared to older mothers, these vicissitudes include the greater likelihood of unplanned and terminated pregnancies, neglect of prenatal care, having parenting problems, being a single parent, and failing to complete high school (Brooks-Gunn & Chase-Lansdale, 1995; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1987). In contrast to adult mothers, adolescent parents also are more likely to require welfare subsidies, live below the poverty level, and to require welfare assistance for a longer period of time (Aber, Brooks-Gunn, & Maynard, 1995). Because of their diminished means of present and future economic self-sufficiency, parents who had their first child during adolescence make up a substantial proportion of families receiving welfare (i.e., 42%). The offspring of teenage parents also are at greater risk for academic and occupational problems, and are themselves more likely to become teenage parents (Bronfenbrenner, McClelland, Wethington, Moen, & Ceci, 1996).

Who is at risk?

According to Bronfenbrenner et al. (1996), African American youth who live in poverty, and come from single parent homes are at greatest risk for becoming teenage parents. However, even excluding the high rates of teenage pregnancy found among ethnic groups of color, the United States of America has the highest rate of adolescent childbearing among any other westernized country. …