Academic journal article Childhood Education

Teenage Parenting: Challenges, Interventions and Programs

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Teenage Parenting: Challenges, Interventions and Programs

Article excerpt

Although the overall birth rate in the United States has declined since 1970, the rates of adolescent pregnancies and childbearing remain higher than in many other industrialized countries (Testa, 1992). More than 500,000 teenagers in the U.S. have babies every year. In fact, births to adolescents make up one-fifth of the annual births in the U.S. (Testa, 1992). Of even more concern, girls between the ages of 10 to 14 years are the fastest growing group of parents. Current trends indicate that many adolescent mothers will not marry and will live in poverty. As of 1992, 67 percent of teen mothers were single when they gave birth (Hamburg & Dixon, 1992). A related concern is teen fathers' all-too-common lack of involvement with their children and with the mothers of their children.


Handling the dramatic changes of adolescence is difficult enough. Mastering the developmental tasks of adolescence and becoming a parent at the same time is especially demanding. These two tasks can easily conflict with each other, meaning that a teenage mother often will compromise one role or fail at both. Adolescent parenthood can be described as an "off-time" in the transition to adulthood (Boxer, 1992). By becoming parents, teenagers disrupt the expected sequence of first, finishing school; second, finding employment; next, marrying; and last, having children. Many teenage parents feel socially isolated because it can be difficult to find friends that share parenting experiences.

Teen mothers are often too immature to properly nurture their children. Adolescents' typical self-absorption makes it difficult to distinguish the child's needs from their own. Indeed, teen mothers are usually still emotionally dependent on their own mothers. In addition, adolescents may have unrealistic expectations about child development (Musick, 1994), which may lead to child abuse when those expectations are not realized. Compared to older women, adolescent mothers are more impatient and punitive, and less nurturing (Cooper, Dunst & Vance, 1990). They may also be so stressed by the challenges of motherhood that they become depressed, develop poor self-esteem, and are not able to provide their children with emotional stability.

Other attendant risks of adolescent motherhood are: an inability to make appropriate decisions because of a lack of experience; greater health risks during pregnancy because of poor prenatal care; a tendency for prolonged and difficult labor; a lack of social support systems; and an inability to handle financial matters. Teen mothers often find it difficult to prioritize financial needs (e.g., when to pay the doctors, how to pay for food, how to obtain money for medicine, etc.). Families headed by teen parents are more likely to live in poverty (Unger & Cooley, 1992), and such families represent the fastest growing group of welfare recipients in the United States (Duany & Pittman, 1990).

Other negative consequences of early childbearing can include: dropping out of school because of parenting responsibilities, limited vocational skills, additional pregnancies, and homelessness as a result of poverty. Roughly 17 percent of teen mothers will be pregnant again within one year, and 30 percent will have more children within two years (Summerlin, 1990). Having more children can cause further financial and social-emotional stresses. Furthermore, the salary that a teenage mother can be expected to earn over her lifetime is half that of someone who delays childbearing (Summerlin, 1990). Because of economic reasons, many adolescent mothers and their children are homeless. They may live in temporary shelters that are overcrowded and noisy, lack privacy, and offer limited opportunities for nurturing parent-child interactions (Anderson & Koblinsky, 1995).


A study by Males (1993) indicates that many teen pregnancies involve fathers who are older than the mothers. …

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