Adolescent Pregnancy and Sexual Behavior: Through the Lenses of Family and Consumer Sciences Teachers

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

A total of 309 (45%) participants responded to the Adolescent Parent Attitude Scale, a questionnaire developed by St. Pierre (The relationship among vocational educator's attitudes toward adolescent parents, their degree of open-mindedness, and their knowledge of the problem of adolescent parenthood Unpublished master's thesis, The Pennsylvania State University, 1980.) that measures attitudes toward pregnant teenagers and their male partners on a positive/negative continuum. On the female sexual behavior scale, teachers were positive toward supporting opportunities for pregnant/parenting adolescents. Teachers were unfavorable toward isolating and prohibiting the possible successes of pregnant and parenting teens. Teachers were favorable toward the males sharing responsibility for the pregnancy. In addition, teachers had slightly higher overall mean ratings on male sexual behavior than female sexual behavior Regardless of years of teaching experience, teachers did not differ on their attitudes toward female sexual behavior or male sexual behavior.

A decline in the adolescent birth rate occurred in the last decade (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998); however, much attention is given to adolescent pregnancy and sexual behavior in the United States. During the period from 1991 to 1996, The Department of Health and Human Services reported a decline in the national birth rates for women ages 15-19. This decline was echoed in every state. The decline ranged from 8 to 20%, which is considerable.

Although the nation is experiencing a decline in adolescent pregnancy, it is still a serious social, economic, and health problem in the United States (Lee and Smith, 1983; Males, 1993) that has numerous consequences. The consequences of adolescent pregnancy are long lasting for the mother. According to several reports (National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1989; Children Defense Fund, 1990; Hotz, McElroy, and Sanders, 1997), approximately 60% of adolescent mothers do not finish high school. Graduating from high school, however, is critical for obtaining postsecondary education or getting a good job. As America moves into the 21st century, when advanced skills and technical knowledge will be required for most good-paying jobs, the prospects for those who have not completed high school will be dismal (Kids Count, 1997). Yet, pregnancy is the greatest single cause of not finishing high school (National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1989; Kids Count, 1997).

On the other hand, the fathers of children born to adolescent mothers bear relatively few consequences of adolescent pregnancy. Seventy percent of adolescent males who become parents complete high school (Kids Count, 1997). According to Brien and Willis (1997), nearly 80% of adolescent fathers do not marry the young mothers of their first children and pay very little child support-- less than $800 annually. Hence, the consequences for the fathers are limited to somewhat lower education levels and to modest earnings losses.

In as much as high school completion is a major concern associated with adolescent pregnancy, it is important for adolescent parents to be enrolled in effective programs with teachers with positive dispositions. St. Pierre (1980), Jensen (1986), and Wagner (1991) have reported that the effectiveness of vocational education for adolescents is strongly influenced by the attitudes of educators working in the vocational program. Educators who hold positive attitudes toward adolescent pregnancy and sexual behavior are more likely to influence programs in ways that are beneficial. In this study, adolescent sexual behavior refers to both female and male behavior. However, the literature is plenteous with regards to female sexual behavior, but sparse concerning male sexual behavior. Currently, family and consumer sciences (FCS) classes are inclusive of adolescent males which makes it imperative to explore teachers' feelings toward both genders. …