Academic journal article Family Relations

Examining the Lives of Navajo Native American Teenage Mothers in Context: A 12- to 15-Year Follow-Up

Academic journal article Family Relations

Examining the Lives of Navajo Native American Teenage Mothers in Context: A 12- to 15-Year Follow-Up

Article excerpt

In 1992 and 1995, data were collected from 29 Navajo, reservation-residing teenage mothers. In 2007, follow-up data from 69% (n = 20) of the original sample were collected. Intensive interviews, grounded in ecological systems theory (U. Bronfenbrenner, 1989), allowed for contextual examination of the women's developmental trajectories. Significant educational accomplishments and a strong work ethic (i.e., individual level) exemplified the majority of respondents. Relationships with families of origin and intimate partners (i.e., microsystems) and connections between these (i.e., mesosystems) promoted and challenged participants' optimal development and were significantly influenced by macrosystem factors (e.g., economic constraints, physical isolation). Implications for service provision and continued research are discussed.

Key Words: developmental trajectories, environmental and social contexts, Navajo Native Americans, systems theory, teenage parenting.

The purpose of this investigation was to examine the developmental trajectories of a unique and understudied population of teenage parenting women, namely, Navajo Native Americans, across an extended period of time. Grounded in ecological systems theory (EST; Bronfenbrenner, 1989), we explored factors embedded at the individual level and within the micro-, meso-, and macrosy stems that were significant for shaping life course developmental outcomes.

EST presents human development as a reciprocal and lifelong process of interaction between person and environment. Accordingly, individuals are embedded within multifaceted and multilayered, hierarchically organized social systems. Present circumstances cannot be fully understood without careful observation of the entire context within which an individual is embedded, including historical events and situations, social relationships, and environmental factors (e.g., physical environment, culture, subculture). Moreover, Bronfenbrenner (1989) emphasized the dimension of time because (a) future developmental alternatives and outcomes are partially determined by present situations and (b) present situations reflect the unfolding of historical events and experience. Referring to the existing literature, several factors at the individual, micro-, meso-, and macrosystems were identified as particularly significant for examining developmental outcomes of teenage mothers, including educational achievement, economic stability, and number of children (at the individual level); interactions with and between significant support providers (at the micro- and mesosystem level); and the broader cultural context (at the macrosystem level). The theoretical thrust of this investigation provides a holistic and multidimensional perspective from which to examine adult developmental outcomes among Navajo teenage mothers while simultaneously allowing for examination of specific factors (e.g., educational attainment, intimate relationship stability) considered markers of adult status (Oxford et al., 2005).

Educational Achievement/Earning Potential (Individual Level)

Educational achievement among teenage mothers is frequently assessed because it is linked to well-being and lifetime earning potential (Kane & Rouse, 1995). According to Lerner (1995), 45% of teenage mothers (and 73% of unmarried teen mothers) receive welfare within 4 years of giving birth, with an estimated annual cost to taxpayers of 9 billion dollars (Hoffman, 2006). Teenage childbearing women experience higher rates of dropping out (Maynard, 1997) and lower rates of college enrollment (Levine & Painter, 2003) than their nonadolescent childbearing peers. However, great variability exists. For instance, 25% of teenage mothers who drop out eventually return to high school to earn a diploma (Pillow, 2004), and, in a 15-year longitudinal study, Rich and Kim (1999) found that more than one fifth of the former teenage mothers in their sample had completed one or more years of college. …

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