Differences between Adolescent Mothers and Nonmothers: An Interview Study

By Garrett, Susan Corona; Tidwell, Romeria | Adolescence, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview
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Differences between Adolescent Mothers and Nonmothers: An Interview Study


Garrett, Susan Corona, Tidwell, Romeria, Adolescence


Females who bear children during their adolescent years appear to differ from those who do not in several ways. A number of characteristics have been implicated: demographic background; peer and family relationships; level of sexual sophistication (accuracy of contraceptive information, attitudes toward sexual activity and pregnancy, sexual history); and self-esteem (Franklin, 1988; McCullough & Scherman, 1991; Williams, 1991). Adolescent pregnancy has been associated with difficulties in the family (Schamess, 1993) and with a number of dysfunctional family traits (Geber & Resnick, 1988; Sandven & Resnick, 1990). Although many individuals are exposed to these risk factors, not all become pregnant. Consequently, there may be other predisposing factors.

Elkes and Crocitto (1987), in a multiple case study of pregnant adolescents, discovered several common family themes: disrupted family structure, strained relationships with parents, physical and emotional abuse by parents, and parental substance abuse. One salient factor found by researchers is lax parental control; for example, being a latchkey child at an early age (Geber & Resnick, 1988; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985). Adolescent mothers are more likely to have resided, at least for some time, in a nonintact family (Powers, 1993), to have been assigned to foster care, and to have experienced family violence (McCullough & Scherman, 1991; Oz & Fine, 1988). They are also more likely to have experienced the loss of a father or father figure during their formative years (de Anda, Becerra, & Fielder, 1990).

A problematic mother-daughter relationship is another family factor related to adolescent pregnancy (Scott, 1993). The relationship may be characterized by maternal rejection (Sherman & Donovan, 1991), maternal deprivation and inconsistency (Bierman & Bierman, 1985), high maternal dependency needs, and the adolescent's overidentification with a mother who was herself a teenage mother (Copeland, 1981). The pregnant adolescents in Sherman and Donovan's (1991) study reported having no relationship with their mothers, and 65% reported having no social support network. Adolescent mothers also have reported receiving mixed messages from significant others, particularly their mothers, regarding the acceptability of sexual involvement and pregnancy (Evans, 1987). Although research indicates that a troubled maternal relationship is a major predisposing factor, a study by Oz and Fine (1991) found that mothers and sisters were actually viewed more favorably by adolescent mothers than were fathers and brothers. The adolescent mothers almost uniformly held a negative view of males, describing them as alcoholic and violent.

Peer relationships also differentiate adolescents at risk for pregnancy. Adolescent mothers tend to be followers, and to exhibit poor interpersonal communication skills (Trad, 1992).

Emotional involvement and romantic love have been cited by adolescents as reasons for failing to use contraceptives (Scott, 1983). Whitley and Schofield (1985-86), summarizing the results of 134 studies, concluded that the major variables affecting young women's contraceptive use were partner influence on use of contraception, acceptance of one's sexuality, future orientation, positive attitudes toward contraception, an exclusive sexual relationship, and frequency of intercourse. Loewenstein and Furstenberg (1991), examining the "rationality" of teenage sexual and contraceptive behavior, found that a decision-making framework is applicable. However, they discovered that the adolescent females in their study tended to place great weight on some considerations, such as the discomfort of using birth control, and very little on others, such as the effectiveness of birth control or their attitude toward motherhood.

Adolescent mothers have been found to romanticize their dating relationships to a greater extent than do nonmothers (Rosenthal, Muram, & McAlpine, 1993).

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