TEEN pregnancy has been called an epidemic. However, the tragic proportions of this problem are best seen when the impact of a pregnancy upon one frightened teenage girl is considered. At the very least, she will experience drastic changes in her life that will deeply impact not only herself but also her family and loved ones.
Teenagers are in what the Bible calls “the bloom of youth”—a time when sexual desires are often at their peak. (1 Corinthians 7:36) Yet, it would be simplistic to consider teen pregnancy to be merely an issue of contraception. The evidence indicates that teen pregnancy involves a number of complex social and emotional issues.
Research shows that many teen mothers come from broken homes. “My whole life all I have ever wanted was a real family” is the recurrent cry of many pregnant teens. Evidently, then, dysfunctional families may set the stage for teen pregnancy. An outreach program that assists teen mothers found that they often have “volatile relationships with their mothers and no relationships with their fathers.” Anita, who became a mother at the age of 18, remembers that although her single mother worked hard to provide for her materially, Anita still felt the emotional void created by the absence of her father.
Other girls become unwed mothers as a direct result of rape. For some of them, the trauma seems to trigger emotional pain that may become manifest later in destructive conduct. Jasmine, for example, was raped at age 15. “After that,” she remembers, “I became self-destructive. When I was 19, I got pregnant.” Sexual abuse may also trigger feelings of worthlessness. “I never felt worthy of anything,” laments Jasmine. Anita went through a similar ordeal: “Between the ages of 7 and 11, I was molested by a teenager. I hated myself. I blamed myself.” She became pregnant at the age of 17.
On the other hand, some youths are the victims of their own overconfidence and curiosity. Nicole, quoted in the preceding article, admits: “I thought that I had all the answers, that I was capable of doing anything. Unfortunately, I was also capable of having a baby.” Carol, who likewise became an unwed mother at an early age, experimented with sex because of curiosity. She says, “I felt there were things out there that I was missing.”
Ignorance of the consequences of sexual activity also plays a role. In Britain, according to sociologists Karen Rowlingson and Stephen McKay, some young people “lack accurate knowledge about . . . what to expect in relationships and what it means to get pregnant.” Some youths seemingly do not grasp the connection between sex and pregnancy. In one survey, teen mothers “often reported being shocked or surprised to find they were pregnant even if they had not been using contraception.”
Nevertheless, it is the changing attitudes toward sex that have had the biggest influence on teen pregnancy. We live in times when people are “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4) Australian researchers Ailsa Burns and Cath Scott say there has been “a reduction in social, religious, and economic sanctions against sex outside of marriage.” Having an out-of-wedlock child may no longer carry the same stigma that it did in times past. Why, in some areas teenagers may even view having a baby as some sort of trophy or status symbol!
The realities of teen motherhood are quite different from youthful fantasies. Upon learning that they are pregnant, girls often experience a storm of emotions. Many admit feeling shocked or stunned. “Common reactions include anger, guilt, and denial,” says the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Denial can be dangerous, though, as it may prevent a girl from pursuing needed medical treatment.
“I got scared,” recalls Elvenia of the moment she came face-to-face with the results of her “adventure” with sex. Many pregnant girls do not have someone to confide in or are too ashamed to talk about their situation. Not surprisingly, then, some become overwhelmed by guilt and fear. Many pregnant teens also suffer severe depression. “I didn’t particularly care about living, and I didn’t care if I died,” says Jasmine.*
However a young girl may react initially, she must eventually make a number of far-reaching decisions for herself and her child. How young girls can make such decisions wisely is the subject of our next article.
For information on coping with suicidal feelings, see “Life is Worth Living,” in the October 22, 2001, issue of Awake!
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Teen Pregnancy—The Grim Facts
Although the following describes the situation in the United States, it reflects some of the realities faced by pregnant teens all over the world.
● Four in 10 girls become pregnant before age 20—over 900,000 teen pregnancies annually.
● About 40 percent of teen mothers are under 18 years of age.
● Children of teen parents suffer higher rates of abuse and neglect than children of older parents.
● Only 4 out of 10 mothers under the age of 18 finish high school.
● Nearly 80 percent of fathers do not marry the teen mothers of their children.
● Only 30 percent of teen mothers who marry after their child is born remain in those marriages; teen marriages are twice as likely to fail as marriages in which the woman is at least 25 years of age.
● Children of teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely and at low birth weight, raising the probability of infant death, blindness, deafness, chronic respiratory problems, mental retardation, mental illness, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, and hyperactivity.
Taken from Not Just Another Single Issue: Teen Pregnancy Prevention’s Link to Other Critical Social Issues, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, February 2002.
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Teen Pregnancy Worldwide
BRAZIL: Reportedly, “698,439 teenage girls under the age of 19 gave birth in 1998 using the Brazilian State Health System . . . 31,857 of these girls were children between 10 and 14 years of age, which, you will have to agree, is an absurdly young age to have a child.”—Folha de S. Paulo, August 25, 1999.
BRITAIN: “Britain has the highest rate of teenage births in Western Europe . . . There were almost 90,000 conceptions to teenagers in England in 1997. Roughly three-fifths resulted in births (56,000), and 90 per cent of teenage births in 1997 were outside marriage (about 50,000).”—Lone Parent Families, 2002.
MALAYSIA: “Children born out of wedlock in the country have increased since 1998 with most mothers in their late teens.”—New Straits Times–Management Times, April 1, 2002.
RUSSIA: “Nearly one-third of all babies born in Russia last year were born to unwed mothers, double the percentage of a decade earlier and at a level not seen since World War II, government statistics show. More than 40 percent of these babies were born to teenagers.”—The Moscow Times, November 29, 2001.
UNITED STATES: “Despite the recently declining teen pregnancy rates, 4 in 10 teenage girls get pregnant at least once before they reach age 20.”—Whatever Happened to Childhood? The Problem of Teen Pregnancy in the United States, 1997.