Personal Adjustment during Pregnancy and Adolescent Parenting

Article excerpt

This study examined "naturally occurring differences" in personal adjustment (social competence, behavior problems, and problem-solving skills) among representative groups of pregnant and nonpregnant adolescents and pregnant adults. Differences in parenting stress and parenting style were also assessed among a subsample of adolescent and adult mothers. Finally, the relationship between prenatally assessed personal adjustment and parenting was evaluated in the adolescent mother group. The contributions of important demographic characteristics (socioeconomic status and race) to both between- and within-group relationships were examined. Results suggested that pregnant adolescents were less socially competent and less proficient in their problem solving than their nonpregnant peers and that they exhibited more behavioral problems than a pregnant adult comparison group. Adolescent mothers displayed higher levels of parenting stress and were less responsive and sensitive in interactions with their infants than adult mothers. Support for the hypothesized link between prenatally assessed personal adjustment and adolescent parenting stress was found, whereas no relationship between socioeconomic status and race and parenting stress was established. These results suggest that intervention with young mothers identified during pregnancy as having personal problems might forestall parenting problems that arise during early child rearing. In recent years there has been concern about the increase in adolescent childbearing, especially in regard to the competence of teenage mothers to function effectively as sensitive and responsive parents. As a result of their asynchronous developmental transition, adolescent mothers are exposed to increased stress which may be detrimental to their well-being and that of their children (Feldman & Feldman, 1975; Russell, 1980; Ventura, 1980). Teenage mothers must cope not only with the stressors of adolescence, but also with stress associated with pregnancy and parenthood. These transactions occur at a time when their personal resources for coping with stress are still developing. Because of the multiple stressors they confront and their developmental immaturity, it has been argued that many adolescent mothers may provide less than optimal parenting to their children (Belsky, Lerner, & Spanier, 1984; Petersen & Crockett, 1986). A number of studies have noted significant differences between adults and adolescents in maternal affect and behaviors (Coll, Hoffman, & Oh, 1987; Jones, Green, & Krauss, 1980; Osofsky & Osofsky, 1970). Motherhood appears to be more stressful for adolescents than for adults (Brown, Adams, & Kellan, 1981; Thompson, 1982). Schilmoeller and Baranowski (1985) also found that adolescent mothers, compared to older mothers, were significantly less responsive to their children, less stimulating, and more restrictive and punitive. Other research has indicated that adolescent mothers were less likely to verbally interact with their infants (Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1986; Epstein, 1980; McLaughlin, Sandler, Sherrod, Vietze, & O'Conner, 1979; Osofsky & Osofsky, 1970; Roosa, Fitzgerald, & Carlson, 1982). Heinicke, Diskin, Ramsey-Klee, and Given (1983) suggested that problematic interactional patterns between the adolescent mother and her infant can be best understood through an examination of the mother's stable personal characteristics. Based on both theory and research, it seems particularly likely that a major determinant of parenting effectiveness is the mother's general personal adjustment (Lazarus, 1976; Tyler, 1978). A mother who is socially and psychologically well adjusted should be better prepared to deal with the numerous stressors associated with raising a child and more effective in her parenting interactions. Support for this assumption has been found in several studies. Colletta and Gregg (1981) reported that the level of emotional stress experienced by adolescent mothers was less for those with greater personal resources and more direct coping styles. …


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