Teenage pregnancy is a major social problem in the United States today. The U. S. has the highest teen pregnancy, abortion and birth rate of any industrialized country. In 1993, births to teen mothers were 13% of all births in the U. S.
Part of the increase in teen pregnancies is due to the fact that the average age of puberty has been decreasing. In the 19th century, the average age of puberty was 17. In the U. S. today, it is about 12. Also, the average age of marriage has risen. Higher educational expectations needed to meet career goals increase the transition time between childhood and assuming adult roles and responsibilities.
With the more relaxed sexual standards of modern times, teens are becoming sexually active at younger ages. Much teen sexual activity takes place without the use of contraceptives. Less than 20% of sexually active teens say they always use effective contraception. Five out of six teen pregnancies are unintended.
Teen pregnancies are associated with serious health concerns for both mother and child. Complications of pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, birth defects and disabilities are more likely in teen pregnancies. Often, lack of prenatal care and poor nutrition add to the risks. In addition to physical health risks, teen parents generally have a less optimistic future than peers who are not teen parents. They are less likely to be educated, have less successful careers, and more likely to live in poverty. If they marry, they are more likely to get divorced than couples who marry after the teen years. Economic hardships, low education, emotional immaturity, and the responsibilities of child care all contribute to the high divorce rate for teens. Their children also have less chance for success. Long term effects for children of teen pregnancies include lower academic achievement and a tendency to become teen parents themselves.
Teen parents who remain with their families, do not marry immediately and are involved in supportive community program seem to do better in the long run. Some supportive community programs include health centers, family planning clinics, vocational, legal and educational counseling agencies and parent training classes.
Prevention is the best solution for teen pregnancies. Community and school programs that present basic information on reproduction, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases along with practice dealing with peer pressure and saying no, have been shown to decrease early teen sexual activity.
Parents can help reduce the chance of teen pregnancy by talking with their teens about the risks, consequences and responsibilities of sexual activity. Supportive, open communication is important. Teens who feel comfortable coming to parents, or another adult, with their questions, concerns and problems are much less likely to rely on the potentially risky advice of peers.
For more information on teen pregnancies, or other questions or comments, call the Trinity Child and Adolescent Program at (515) 574-6596.
This article was written by Pam Lehman, a counselor with the Trinity Recovery Center at Trinity Regional Hospital. Pam has a Master of Science degree in counseling.
Reprinted with the permission of the Community Action Network. © Community Action Network, All Rights Reserved.
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