Americans take great pride in their leadership among nations. Such a distinction becomes dubious, however, when the title is claimed for the highest rate of teen pregnancies among industrialized societies. By the mid-1970s, teenage pregnancy in the United States had become an issue of grave concern for policymakers, educators, clinicians, and parents as well as for teens themselves (Christopher & Roosa, 1990). In spite of the fact that the use of condoms more than doubled during the 1980s, as of 1990, one-third of sexually active teens were still practicing unprotected sex and 60% of their pregnancies were unplanned ("Sexuality . . .", 1990). This sad social commentary was evidenced by a record 1.16 million babies born to unmarried mothers in 1990, most of whom were teenagers ("Paternity Establishment Plan . . .," 1993).
The multiple personal and social implications rooted in teen pregnancies are well documented. Babies born to teen mothers are at increased risk of developing physical, social, and cognitive problems and deficiencies (Henshaw, Kenney, Somberg, & Van Vort, 1989). Teenage mothers do not acquire as much education as teens who delay childbearing; therefore, they are less likely to find stable employment and more likely to rely on public assistance, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty (Furstenburg, 1991). In fact, one half of teen mothers go on welfare within a year, and 77% within five years ("Face up to Sex Ed," 1993). In 1989, the national public cost of all families started by a teen birth was $21.6 billion ("Teenager Pregnancy . . .", 1990). At that time, the annual cost of providing first-year welfare services in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Medicaid, and food stamps to a low-income mother and her child was $9,200. Paradoxically, the annual cost of family planning services under Title XIX for a sexually active teen was only $64 ("Systems Report MI . . .", 1990). The spiraling costs continue to climb. For example, in one state, the average monthly cost for AFDC benefits rose from $18.2 million in 1991 to $25.5 million in 1992 ("Adolescent Pregnancy . . .", 1993). From any view, a too-early teen pregnancy is costly to both the persons involved and to society.
Purpose of Study
Because of their complexity, teen pregnancy issues are usually investigated within singular frameworks such as developmental, cognitive, and/or social learning theories. Further, the focus of current programs and practices for teens and their babies is on either intervention or prevention. The urgency of solving the escalating teen pregnancy problems, however demands that professionals in research, medicine, therapy, and education, adopt a perspective of integration. A model recently proposed in the family therapy field as a biopsychological framework offers such an integrated alternative (Weiner, 1993). Accordingly, connections among various factors impacting an issue are holistically explored. This investigation was designed to seek connections among the developmental, cognitive, social, and emotional variables inherent in teen pregnancy issues by assessing the perceptions of pregnant teens currently enrolled in school-based pregnancy/parenting programs. Data were sought to determine correlations among personal, family, race/ethnicity, and educational background variables and unplanned teen pregnancy. Basic assumptions, based on a review of the literature, were that teens who demonstrated a lack of responsible sexual decision making with a too-early pregnancy would exhibit the following characteristics: (1) membership in one-parent family; (2) a lack of emotional closeness with family members; (3) a dearth of sex education in their family and educational backgrounds; and (4) race/ ethnicity differences related to marital status of parent(s), attendance at religious services, and feeling good about self.
While the initial purpose was concerned with intervention, that is, obtaining data with which family practitioners can improve the current programs and practices for pregnant teens and their babies, the ultimate goal is prevention. …