Finding out that there will be a new addition to a family is usually a happy occasion, especially when that new addition is a newborn baby. Every parent has preconceptions of what their baby will be like and wonders how their life will change. A baby changes one's life in immeasurable ways. Those changes may be more profound, however, when one is practically a baby themselves. Having a child as a teenager will dramatically alter the course of one's life.
Although a parent never wants to think about their adolescent child becoming a parent, it is a possibility. Having a child is not the worst thing that could happen to a teenager, but nevertheless, it is a situation that many parents fear. The best way to deal with teenage pregnancy is often to prevent it from happening in the first place. There are some ways to help ensure that it doesn't happen.
Encourage independence and the pursuit of goals
Teenagers who know that they are capable of depending on themselves and who are focused on their own goals are less likely to become dependent on an unhealthy teenage relationship, and girls who have their own dreams to pursue will be less inclined to put those dreams in jeopardy by engaging in risky behaviors.
Teach the facts of life
This may seem obvious, but many teens operate on the assumption that "it will never happen to me." Even if they get the overall message that teenage sex is wrong, they may not understand the real results of their actions. Specific teaching on fertility can show a young teenager that pregnancy is not some abstract 'what if' but a likely actuality. Making teenagers aware of contraception is simply giving them information. Ensuring that a child knows how to prevent pregnancy will not give them a license to engage in sex.
What about an adolescent who is already pregnant?
Statistically, teenage pregnancy is on the decline. According to CNN, the number of teenage pregnancies have reached record lows. From 1999 to 2001, the birth rate among teenage moms dropped by 37%. While this overall trend is good news for society, the reality is that there are still many babies born to teenage mothers everyday. Regardless of the effect on society as a whole, a teenage birth has a profound effect on the child, the teenage mother, and her family.
There are some potential negative outcomes associated with teenage births overall:
Low birth weigh, premature birth, and other health problems
Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to have low birth weight, be born prematurely, or suffer from other health problems. The March of Dimes cites the fact that teen mothers are more likely to smoke and less likely to seek prenatal care as factors.
Lower educational attainment for the mother
Having a child can be a huge obstacle in pursuing an education for a young mother. Finding babysitters just to go to class can be a problem, and finding time to study while caring for a young child can be difficult.
Academic problems for the child
Often, survival becomes the focus for a family headed by a teenage mother. Simply putting food on the table may have to be the main goal, which may leave less time for the enriching activities which lead to academic achievement.
Without family support, a young family may live in poverty.
Loss of adolescence
A teenage mother will have to grow up quickly, missing out on the chance to gradually enter adulthood. Starting out in the world is difficult to do as an individual. For those who must do so with another life depending on them, it can be overwhelming.
It is important to note, however, that some of the "problems" of teenage pregnancy may have been created by society's focus on extended adolescence. At one time, it was expected for young people to marry and begin a family while still teens themselves. Young marriage is not what we now mean by teenage pregnancy but it is relevant in that society has now extended the childhood and adolescence of its youth. Teenagers are physically maturing at the same rate but they are no longer growing up with the life skills and maturity to begin a family at the same age. High school is extended to age 18 or 19 and college is becoming a requirement, further putting off the time when young adults are able to support a family.
The impact on the family: child, parents, and grandparents
A teenage pregnancy doesn't just affect the life of the pregnant teen. It will obviously affect the unborn child and it is important to begin thinking of the child as a real person with real needs. But more than that, it will affect the lives of parents and siblings. A teenage pregnancy often means a multigenerational household. Grandparents may be asked to:
Provide a home for both mother and baby
A young mother may not have the means to set up a home for herself and her child, at least not at first. Welcoming the new baby into the family home will likely be a necessity.
Provide babysitting services
Childcare is expensive and is often cost prohibitive for a mother attending school or working a low paying job. Grandparents may need to provide babysitting, if possible.
Provide financial support
There are government assistance programs available for teenage mothers, and the teenage father should be expected to step up and support his child, but a young teenager will likely need to depend on the financial support of her own parents.
With the impact on the mother's family, it is important to have a plan in place before making the announcement. While family may not be instantly receptive to hearing details, it is helpful if the mother has already begun making plans. Having a detailed plan as to how one will support a child is a good idea. If a teenage couple plan to become a family, they should outline their plan together.
Sometimes, however, raising a child may not be a possibility. Placing a child for adoption is an option. Some possible reasons for considering adoption are:
Adoption is not necessarily a solution just because the birth mother is not married. The marital status of the mother need not be a deciding factor in whether to place a child for adoption. While every child deserves two parents, the reality is that may not always be the case. With many marriage dissolving within the first five years, there is no guarantee that a child will grow up in a two parent home, even if placed for adoption. There is also the possibility that a teenage mother will meet and marry someone ready and willing to be a stable parent to her child. And if a child grows up in a single parent home, this is not necessarily a detriment. If, however, having a child in a two parent family is an important value, adoption may be a viable option.
Unwilling to Raise a Child
Adoption is a good idea when the birth mother does not want to raise a child. Being a parent is the hardest job one will ever have. Raising a child requires an enormous amount of time, money and energy. Even after all of those have been provided, it is not enough. A child's self-worth is dependent upon his or her parent's views. A child who is continually reminded, either verbally or through actions, that he or she is unwanted will likely grow up with significant relationship problems. Adoption can provide the baby with loving parents who truly want a child.
Adoption can be a wise move when the birth parent is unable to financially provide for a child, and does not have family support. Most teenage mothers do not have a complete education or an established career. The prospects of financially supporting a child, and doing so while providing satisfactory care for the child is daunting. This is even more true when there is a lack of support from the birth mom's own family and little prospect of obtaining child support from the child's father. While government assistance is a possibility, that often works best in tandem with family support. Adoption may be the best solution for a mother with no means of supporting a child.
Having a child while still a teenager is fraught with potential problems, both health wise and for the future life of the child, mother, and her family. Becoming a mother at an early age is not the ideal situation, but really, few things in life are. The good news is that many of the possible problems can be avoided.
A teenage mother who is healthy and avoids smoking, alcohol, and drugs has every chance of having a healthy baby.
- A teenage mother who sets goals and is determined to complete her education can do it, regardless of obstacles.
- A teenager mother who reads about child development and how to meet the needs of her child can have a child who excels academically.
- A teenage mother who has a strong bond with her child can raise an emotionally healthy and happy person, even as a single parent.
- A teenage mother is not sentenced to any negative outcome, regardless of what statistics say.
While it is, of course, best to avoid a teenage pregnancy, there are still many options for those facing the situation. By considering the risks and realities, a young mother can make an informed decision that will ensure a future for herself and her child.