Every thirty-one seconds an adolescent becomes pregnant in the United States and every two minutes one gives birth (Hardy& Zabin, 1991). The U.S. adolescent birthrate is the highest among Western countries (Hardy & Zabin, 1991; Thomas, Rickel, Butler, & Montgomery, 1990; Merrill, 1989), with approximately one million teens under the age of 18 becoming pregnant each year (Hardy & Zabin, 1991; Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1990). Just under fifty percent of these adolescents give birth, over ninety percent of whom elect to keep their children (Hardy & Zabin, 1991; Levine, Coil, & Oh, 1985). According to the Washington State Board of Health (1992), teenage mothers are 1.4 times more likely than nonteenage mothers to experience the death of their infants. This infant mortality rate may be due to the mother's lack of prenatal care, lack of knowledge concerning appropriate childcare techniques, or to tobacco, alcohol, or other drug use prior to and following the birth of her child.
Early parenthood disrupts personal and family development, school completion, and economic self-sufficiency. Many adolescent parents drop out of school, are unemployed, and live in poverty. Thus, the adolescent mother must cope with restricted resources which, in turn, can limit the quality of life she can offer her child (Cooper, Dunst, & Vance, 1990).
Because of age and stressful events that frequently accompany youthful pregnancy, researchers have questioned the ability of adolescents to parent their young in ways that promote optimal development (Dickinson & Cudaback, 1992). Many adolescent mothers have inadequate social support networks, lack adequate knowledge of child development, and possess inappropriate child-rearing attitudes.
Typical Mother-Child Interaction
Quality parent-child interactions are necessary for the child to develop appropriately within the context of a trustful, secure relationship. Since an infant is dependent upon others, especially the mother, to tend to basic biological and social needs, infant-caregiver bonding is determined by the quality of their interactions and the infant's subsequent feelings of security that these needs will be met. Lawrence (1983) has stipulated that maternal attachment (affectionate ties that ensure that the infant will indeed be cared for by the mother) is essential to the healthy psychological development of the child. Maternal playfulness, sensitivity, encouragement, and responsiveness at three months of age have been found to be positively related to attachment at nine months (Owens, 1992).
Anastasiow (1983) has defined optimal parental behavior as responsiveness to the infant's emotional and educational needs, monitoring the infant's health, promoting language development, providing psychological warmth, and encouraging the infant to master developmental tasks at age-appropriate stages. Elster, McAnarney, and Lamb (1983) have added parent sensitivity as an appropriate parental behavior. Sensitivity is described as the ability to provide contingent, consistent, and appropriate responses to the infant's signals, perceive the infant's cues, interpret the cues correctly, and implement proper responses in an effective manner.
The early relationship between infant and caregiver, especially the mother and child, is one of being close and interacting in a variety of ways, such as touch and eye gaze. These early interactions "teach" the infant about turn taking, social interaction, communication, and language. If the interactions are positive, they also let the infant know that he or she is important and has ways of controlling the environment.
Early language is learned through interactions between the child and caregivers at home. In the very early stages of infancy, most caregivers use language as one means of communicating socially. Although adults are aware that infants do not yet understand language, they use language as if the child is understanding what is said. …