Prenatal Maternal Predictors of Cognitive and Emotional Delays in Children of Adolescent Mothers

Article excerpt


The present study examined relationships among prenatal characteristics of 121 adolescent mothers--including cognitive readiness for parenting, intelligence, social support, and personal adjustment--and intellectual-linguistic development, social-emotional functioning, and adaptive behavior in their children at three years of age. Only 28% of the children scored within normal ranges on all three types of outcomes. Intellectual and linguistic delays were predicted best by prenatal measures of maternal Performance IQ and social support from extended family. Socioemotional problems were predicted best by maternal internalizing problems and social support from partner and friends. Adaptive behavior was associated with parenting style. Implications for the early identification of high-risk children--and associated intervention programs--are discussed.

Children of adolescent mothers are at increased risk for intellectual and social-emotional problems. Marecek (1979) reported that infants of adolescent mothers performed less well than infants of adult mothers on the Bayley developmental scales at eight months of age, the Stanford-Binet at four years, and the WISC at seven years. Moreover, Broman's (1981) longitudinal study revealed a higher percentage of mild mental retardation among children of young mothers than was present in the general population. More recently, Culp, Osofsky, and O'Brien (1996) found that one-year-old infants of adolescent mothers had fewer vocalizations than did infants of adult mothers.

Although research has not extensively explored the social and emotional competencies of children of adolescent mothers, the available evidence suggests that development in these domains may also be adversely affected (Dubow & Luster, 1990; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1991). For instance, Marecek (1979) found that young children of adolescent mothers are overly conforming and uncommunicative, whereas older children are often hostile and resentful of authority. Aggressiveness, impulsiveness, and distractibility have also been found to be common in children with teenage mothers (Hechtman, 1989), along with a disproportionate percentage of insecure attachments (Ward & Carlson, 1995). These factors, in combination with diminished intellectual-cognitive capacities, set the stage for multiple developmental and academic problems during the early school years.

Considerable information is available regarding individual maternal predictors of child development, but little is known about their relative importance or how maternal characteristics measured during pregnancy are associated with long-term developmental delays in children of adolescent mothers (cf. Furstenberg et al., 1991). Greater insight into how maternal characteristics differentially influence children's cognitive and emotional functioning would help in the early detection and subsequent treatment of children at risk for a variety of development problems.

The present study used a broad-based model of adolescent parenting, proposed by Whitman, Borkowski, Schellenbach, and Nath (1987), to identify specific prenatal maternal correlates of developmental delays. The model features four important characteristics of adolescent mothers--inadequate cognitive readiness for parenting (de Lissovoy, 1993; Field, 1980; Sommer, Whitman, Borkowski, Schellenbach, Maxwell, & Keogh, 1993; Vukelich & Kliman, 1985), low IQ (Garber, 1975), inadequate social support (Barrera, 1981; Unger & Wandersman, 1988), and adjustment problems (Nelson, Gumlak, & Politano, 1986; Passino, Whitman, Borkowski, Schellenbach, Maxwell, Keogh, & Rellinger, 1993; Rickel, 1989)-- which place their children at increased risk for a variety of developmental delays through insensitive or inadequate parenting and increased maternal stress.

In this study, cognitive readiness to parent was defined in terms of knowledge about child development, parenting styles, and parenting attitudes (Whitman et al. …


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