Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Competitive Parenting: The Culture of Teen Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Competitive Parenting: The Culture of Teen Mothers

Article excerpt

I examined the competitive culture of adolescent mothers and the sociodemographic characteristics that explain the formation and diffusion of this culture. I gathered data during a 3-year participant-observation study of mothers enrolled in a high school program for adolescent parents. The mothers competed in several areas: the provision of material possessions, the physical and cognitive development of their children, their knowledge of parenting, and their care and leniency in comparison with other parents. conclude that the competitive culture is shaped by the age, social class, and race of the adolescents.

Key Words: adolescent mothers, childrearing, competition, parenting.

Teenage parents have received a tremendous amount of negative press regarding their ability to parent effectively. Although some researchers have gone to great lengths to explain that it is not teen parents' age that leads to negative outcomes for their children, but rather the disadvantaged backgrounds from which they come (Luker, 1996; Nathanson, 1991), the abundance of studies remarking on these negative consequences cannot be ignored. The children of teenage parents are more likely than other children to die as infants (Geronimous, 1987), grow up in poverty (Geronimous & Korenman, 1992), get into trouble at school, drop out of school (Furstenberg, BrooksGunn, & Morgan, 1987), become criminals if they are boys, and become adolescent parents themselves if they are girls (Maynard, 1996).

Researchers interested in the consequences of adolescent parenting for the adolescents themselves often have focused on the relationship between early childbearing and educational attainment and have explored whether having a child cuts short a teen parent's schooling. Given their age as adolescents, a time when one would expect them to be in school, and given the important influence of education in determining future economic status and employment opportunities, examining the effect that childbearing has on schooling makes intuitive sense. Early research on this question suggested that adolescent childbearing results in a truncated high school education for the teenage mother (Hofferth & Moore, 1979; Marini, 1984), as have several more recent studies of teen parents born in the 1950s and 1960s (Astone & Upchurch, 1994; Hoffman, Foster, & Furstenberg, 1993). Other studies, especially those using more recent generations of teen parents, claim that adolescents who become pregnant while still enrolled in school earn diplomas at the same rate as their peers without children (Upchurch & McCarthy, 1990). However, those who drop out and then become pregnant are not as likely to complete their high school education (Rindfuss, Bumpass, & St. John, 1980; Upchurch & McCarthy, 1990). One explanation for this discrepancy is that earlier generations of teen parents did not have the opportunity to remain in school, for it was not until the early 1970s that Title IX legislation first took effect, prohibiting schools from barring pregnant and parenting teens (Furstenberg et al., 1987; Luker, 1996). Thus, early studies may not accurately reflect today's parents, who not only have the legal right to remain in school, but who also benefit from the school-based programs that have come about in an effort to help parenting teens to graduate.

Although the question of how teen parenting affects schooling has received a great deal of attention, the question of how schooling affects adolescent parenting has not been addressed in either qualitative or quantitative studies. The question of whether being in school and surrounded by peers (both parenting and nonparenting) influences parenting values, beliefs, and practices has not been answered. Large-scale quantitative studies are useful in identifying trends facing a large population of teen mothers and their children, but in-depth, smaller-scale studies are necessary to understand and identify the mechanisms that affect the children of teen parents-to understand how and why adolescent mothers parent the way they do. …

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