Rural Junior High School Students' Risk Factors for and Perceptions of Teen-Age Parenthood

Article excerpt

Most national and regional studies of adolescent sexual activity and perceptions of parenthood do not specifically examine rural adolescents. Usually data are aggregated across rural and urban areas. For example, the 1995 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) found that nationwide 9.0% of students had initiated sexual intercourse before age 13. Gender specific results indicated that by the ninth grade, 40.6% of males and 32.1% of females had engaged in intercourse.[1] These data include both rural and urban adolescents. However, studies of urban adolescents only indicate higher percentages of adolescents engaging in intercourse than the aggregated percentages reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, a large study (n = 1,899) of junior high school students in three inner-city schools found that 60% of those ages 13 to 14 had been sexually active.[2]

Two studies in the late 1980s examined the sexual behaviors of rural adolescents. Findings from one study conducted in rural Minnesota[3] indicated that 21% of junior high school adolescents had begun sexual intercourse. In addition, 11.3% of males and 2.3% of females claimed they were 12 years of age or younger when they first had intercourse. Findings from the second study implemented in Maryland with eighth grade students revealed that more than one-half of the sample had sexual intercourse.[4] Most of the sexually experienced were Black and male. However, in a recent study of rural versus metropolitan adolescent pregnancies, pregnancy rates for White teenagers were slightly higher in rural than in metropolitan counties.[5] These results are not surprising because previous reports indicate that rural and urban adolescents have similar rates of high-risk behaviors known to affect adolescent pregnancy and early childbearing.[6]

Nearly one-quarter of the nation's youth live in rural areas. These same adolescents have or are exposed to significant levels of risk factors for early childbearing such as poverty, social isolation, and substance abuse. One risk factor revealed in a previous study is the expectation of becoming a teen parent,[7] a factor that increases the teen-age pregnancy risk by 1.7 times.[7] Specific to rural adolescents, it has been shown that risk factors such as using other drugs, using alcohol, and IQ are significant risk factors for becoming a teen-age parent for rural adolescents/This study was designed to 1) explore rural adolescents' perceptions of becoming a teen-age parent, and 2) expand on previous studies by determining the level of sexual behavior and significant risk factors for predicting sexual behavior in rural adolescents.

Research questions to be addressed were: 1) How many rural adolescents are engaging in sexual intercourse? 2) What are their perceptions of others engaging in sexual intercourse? 3) What are the predictors of rural teens engaging in sexual intercourse? 4) What are the attitudes of rural teens toward being a teen parent? 5) What are the perceived benefits to rural teens of being a teen parent? 6) What are the perceived barriers to rural teens of being a teen parent? 7) What are the efficacy expectations of not engaging in sexual intercourse?

METHODS

Subjects

Rural junior high school students in two counties of northwest Ohio were surveyed on their perceptions of becoming a teen-age parent. A convenience sample of 732 students from five schools was used. Participants were surveyed by an adult other than their teacher to increase their perception of confidentiality. Perception of confidentiality also was increased by having each student place and seal their survey in a manilla envelope. Data were collected during fall 1996.

Instrument

The survey instrument was created based on a review of the teen-age pregnancy literature to establish face validity. More specifically, a recent article found that 50% to 70% of the variance in safer sex intentions was explained by three key factors: expected consequences of the action (advantages and disadvantages), perceived social support for the action, and self-efficacy. …