From prom queen to pregnant teen
Published: Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Updated: Friday, December 26, 2008 18:12
Teen pregnancy seems to be in the spotlight as of late.
With the announcement of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spear's pregnancy earlier this year, news of 17 girls at a high school in Massachusetts who made a "pact" to get pregnant, and the more recent headlines of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's 17-year-old pregnant daughter, it is a hot topic.
To top it all off, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported the United States is experiencing its first increase in teen pregnancies since 1991.
As if being a parent is not difficult enough, the role of parent falling onto a teenager's shoulders only creates more of a challenge - a challenge felt by many in the United States, where we have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world.
According to the report released by the NIH in July 2008, the teen pregnancy rate has risen by 4 percent.
Teen pregnancy, however, is an issue that affects more people than just the parents and children.
A study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy done in October 2006 reported that adolescent childbearing is costing U.S. taxpayers an estimated $9 billion per year.
The fact that billions of taxpayers' dollars are being spent on something that is completely preventable, instead of something more demanding, is frustrating. Billions of dollars is a large sum of money and instead of being put toward ineffective programs like the "abstinence only" system or more extensive sex education programs in schools, could be used to work toward eliminating poverty, a definitive source of teen pregnancy. Impoverished teen girls often lack the proper understanding or education regarding pregnancy and contraceptive use. They are also less likely to be able to afford an abortion and have less access to available resources.
Teen pregnancy also is cause for various health concerns.
Younger girls are at particular risk because their bodies have not fully grown and matured and thus have an increased risk for complications such as premature labor. Teenage mothers are less likely to gain an adequate amount of weight during their pregnancy, which can result in low birth weight. They have a higher rate of poor eating habits and are less likely to take the recommended daily prenatal multivitamins to maintain proper nutrition during their pregnancy.
Additionally, they are more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or take drugs, which can create increased health problems for the child.
Possibly one of the scariest aspects regarding health risks teenagers face when having intercourse are sexually transmitted diseases.
Contraceptive use is much lower among teens due to their lack of understanding and fear or embarrassment associated with having to purchase contraceptives. Therefore, this heightens the risk of contracting a STD, especially if teens are engaging in sexual activities with various partners. In the long run, five minutes of embarrassment when purchasing contraceptives at the local supermarket could result in avoiding more trouble in the future.
While protection is effective, the only way to truly avoid getting pregnant or contracting an STD is through abstinence.
Health risks are not the only obstacle teen mothers have to face. Socioeconomic consequences play into the equation as well.
Young mothers have a higher chance of doing poorly in school - or dropping out completely - and are less likely to attend college. This lack of education often results in the inability to get a job that is financially stable and adequate to support a family and expenses a baby brings.
What is often forgotten is how much the children can suffer.
Most children born to teen mothers are raised in a single parent household, which does not just place additional strain on the woman to perform the duties of a mother and a father, but robs children of a male figure in their lives. Children born to younger mothers tend to not receive the proper amount of attention and care and also have a higher risk of also dropping out of school and becoming sexually active themselves at a young age.
While not being physically mature, teenage girls and boys are generally not emotionally prepared to be parents either.
Having to suddenly worry and be responsible for another totally dependent human being, while still maturing and finding oneself, is not fair to the parent or the child. Many parents then tend to grow up alongside their own child. Instead of kids worrying about prom and college applications, their list of priorities contains finding day care and buying diapers.
The media play a role too, as some movies, books and television shows tend to normalize and even glamorize teen pregnancy without always effectively displaying the harsh reality behind it. Furthermore, with celebrities like Spears making news, there are girls who are influenced by famous teens like her, what they see on TV and decisions their fellow peers make, no matter how serious.
Reportedly, the 17 girls in Massachusetts wanted to get pregnant to have someone to "love them."
This is not unfamiliar with young girls who may want to get pregnant for the wrong reasons, including desiring a child who will love them unconditionally to hoping the pregnancy will keep the father in the relationship. The girls who strive for this attention and love are the ones who ultimately lack confidence in, and respect for, themselves.
Many believe sex education in schools would effectively reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. Opponents argue that sex education only encourages earlier and more sexual activity.
However, sex education should start at home.
Not enough parents talk to their children about sex - the biological facts, consequences and the emotional aspects. The conversation should be a proactive and ongoing learning process. By being able to discuss sex comfortably, the child will be better informed to make decisions later on and better prepared to resist peer pressure.