Maya Gaspar | Aug. 29, 2016
When I was growing up in the 1980s and 90s, there was a barrage of commercials and after-school specials about teen pregnancy. The overwhelming impression left behind by this media campaign was that if you were irresponsible enough to become pregnant as a teenager, the result would be a lifetime of poverty, isolation, and basically a complete disaster.
The goal of this campaign, of course, was to reduce the numbers of incidents of teen pregnancy, and it appears that it may have been successful. 2010 saw the lowest rate of teen pregnancy since the 1940s, and it has been steadily decreasing since then.
But are all these damaging depictions of pregnancy before the age of 20 really accurate? Are teens who become pregnant really trapped in a cycle of ignorance and poverty? Or is there more to the story?
Let’s examine some of the facts and myths about teenagers who become pregnant.
If you look at cold hard statistics, it cannot be denied that teen pregnancy has many negative effects.
- Increased drop-out rates. Teen mothers are 50% more likely to drop out before earning their high school diploma.
- Lack of educational opportunity. By the age of 30, less than 2% of teen mothers will graduate from college.
- The welfare cycle. More than half of all mothers on welfare had their first child before the age of 20. 25% of them will have a second child before the age of 24.
- Poor financial prospects. Former teen mothers earn an average of $11,000 per year.
- Overall cost to society. Mothers under age 17 will collect an average of $37,000 in public assistance by the time they are 35. This does not include other “hidden” costs of teen pregnancy, such as the increased incidents of incarceration among the children of teen mothers, and the fact that these children are twice as likely to be placed in foster care.
However, there are some other aspects of this apparent “social problem” that don’t get as much pressure.
- Bad press. It has been found that society’s negative view of teen mothers actually has an impact on their success. Teen mothers are consistently portrayed in the media as lazy, ignorant, and a drain on resources. We do not see any examples of teens who have been successful in this role. These negative portrayals have been found to damage the resilience and self-esteem of young mothers, as it highlights their feelings of failure. In a way, we actually set up teen mothers to fail because this resilience is a major predictor of their success.
- Support. Another essential element in the success of teen mothers is a strong support networkof family and friends. However, the lack of respect that they receive in our society makes it difficult for them to seek out the support they need. We simply do not treat teen mothers with the same degree of kindness that older moms get.
- Resilience. Individual stories of teen mothers show that they have a great capacity for resilience in the face of adverse circumstances. If they do not demonstrate resilience before having a child, they often become resilient as a result of the challenges of motherhood.
- Decreased drug abuse. Girls who live in severe poverty are more likely to choose to avoid delinquency once they have become parents. There is a lower incidence of alcohol and drug use among teen moms, as compared to other teens.
- A sense of purpose. It has been found that motherhood often gives teens a strong sense of purpose and direction that would otherwise be lacking. Being a parent helps them identify clearer goals and make better choices.
It cannot be denied that teen pregnancy has many negative effects on the lives of mother and child, and on society as a whole. But if we are to reduce these negative effects, it seems that the best course of action is to re-examine our own attitudes.
No matter what our age, if someone constantly tells us that we are worthless and unproductive, we are more likely to become that way. Conversely, if everyone tells us that we can succeed, we probably will.
In that sense, teen mothers are no different from the rest of us.
About the author:
Writer, traveller and entrepreneur, Maya Gaspar now is as a marketing director of Get Essay Safe and contributor for The Gender Experts. She has a good experience with creating and developing marketing campaigns and promoting startups.