Academic journal article Family Relations

Contextual Issues in Teen Pregnancy and Parenting: Refining Our Scope of Inquiry

Academic journal article Family Relations

Contextual Issues in Teen Pregnancy and Parenting: Refining Our Scope of Inquiry

Article excerpt

M. Laurie Leitch*

Adolescent pregnancy is a challenge for teens and their families as well as for service providers, social scientists, and legislators. In spite of a broad array of interventions over the years targeted at either pregnancy prevention or improving outcomes for parenting teens, a cost effective "solution" which consistently demonstrates its effectiveness in reducing unwed pregnancy has not been found. The three articles preceding this essay (see in this issue of Family Relations: Blinn-Pike, Kuschel, & McDaniel, p. 119; Camarena, Minor, Melmer, & Ferrie, p. 129; and Solomon & Liefeld, p. 139) describe three different inquiries into this "at risk" population, pregnant, and parenting teens.

In reading the three articles, I use first my lens as a clinician. I have worked as a family therapist and supervisor for many years and have deep appreciation for the richness this lens provides. Secondly, I read as one who has been engaged in the evaluation of teen pregnancy and parenting programs for more than 15 years. My work as a program evaluator has given me great respect for the diversity of the adolescents and their families being served and for the dedication of those designing and implementing programs for them. In this essay, I focus on issues stimulated by a reading of the three articles which have relevance for clinicians and researchers. Rather than discussing the details of each of the articles, I have chosen to present the threads that I pulled out of them. I have spun each thread into a broader discussion of related clinical and evaluation issues.

The Developmental Collision of Adolescence and the Role of Parenting

In reading the Camarena et al. article on the life aspirations of teen mothers, I appreciated the reminder that teen mothers are not a homogenous group. Reading about the challenge the authors faced in attempting to find themes in their qualitative data that consistently described their respondents highlights the multifaceted complexity of attempting to find predictors (or even correlates) of behavior and attitudes. However, adolescent diversity exists in a developmental framework which is an essential scaffolding from which to consider program approaches, research design, and clinical interventions. The developmental period of adolescence is well known to most of us as being characterized by, for example: (1) the development of self-identity, (2) concern with body image, (3) seeking peer acceptance, (4) emerging sexual identity, and (5) experimentation, differentiation, and a push for independence. When we think of "normal" adolescents we generally expect them to be quite self-absorbed as they experiment with ways of differentiating themselves from their families. We are not surprised when they are moody or reactive. If they are vague about work or career plans we don't worry too much since teens are typically present-oriented. In our culture we do not expect them to find their life partner nor are they usually expected to be able to live independently and be self-supporting. In fact, some benign forms of "irresponsibility" may even be considered as a healthy challenging of the boundaries on behalf of identity formation.

When teens become parents, a reorganization of the role of the adolescent is required to accommodate the role of parenthood. Monserrat and Barr (1980) have presented several ways in which the requirements of parenthood can conflict with the characteristics and needs of adolescents. For example, body image is a characteristic concern of adolescents and this may impact choices regarding breastfeeding. Monserrat and Barr note other characteristics and needs of adolescents that may conflict with the requirements of parenthood as well, including: development of self-identity; seeking peer acceptance; seeking relationships with the opposite sex; striving for independence; and others. As clinicians we must take this collision into account in our work with teens and their families. …

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