The teenage years are a transitional phase of physical, emotional and intellectual development. It is a turbulent time of emotional ups and downs, identity development and increasing independence, often marked with periods of distress and conflict with parents.
The rollercoaster years of thirteen to twenty are some of the most precarious of our lives. New freedoms coupled with inexperience can lead to poor decision-making. For some, momentous changes are accidental. These can include getting pregnant: something that as an adult may seem amazing, but for a teenager this could be the worst thing in the world.
Ironically, at a time when sexual education and access to contraceptives is perhaps better than it has ever been, the United States continues have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the western industrialized world. In a time when women have so many options available to them, many teenagers engage in risky sexual behavior out of curiosity, ignorance or to fill gaps in their own emotional lives, often without considering implications of potential consequences.
The vast majority of teen pregnancies are unplanned and most are unwanted. Many teenagers simply try to block the reality of their own baby growing inside of them by pretending that it’s not there. Teenagers are far less likely than older women to seek early prenatal care, take vitamins and look after themselves. This impacts on the physical development of the baby and the mother. Statistically, teenagers are more likely to suffer high blood pressure, deliver prematurely and have babies with low birth weight.
The emotional pressures of becoming pregnant at a young age are also not to be underestimated. While the body may be physically mature, the brain is not yet fully developed. Pregnancy involves some weighty decisions: whether to have an abortion or consider an adoption plan; how to prepare to become a mother and how to tell family and friends. These pressures can be all too much. Many families of pregnant teens are at least initially unsupportive and angry, which in turn causes further emotional pressure and distance. Pregnant teens are 50% more likely to drop out of school or education programs, become depressed or even suicidal, and turn to drugs and alcohol for solace. Birth fathers are far less likely to be supportive in these younger years so the mother is likely to have to deal with the emotional and physical changes she is going through alone. Teenagers who decide to keep their babies are much more likely to find themselves facing many difficulties as their children grow up, including poverty, which is likely to perpetuate a difficult cycle for future generations.
As a society we have a responsibility of care: firstly to educate in order to help prevent teen pregnancy in the first place. Teenagers need to know how to access contraceptive advice, including the morning after pill, and to learn how to make responsible decisions. We need to help them make the right choices for themselves and the baby, whether that is abortion, adoption or deciding to bring up their child. Above all, teenagers who find themselves unintentionally pregnant need sympathetic and objective help to support them. Pregnancy is wonderful, but the timing of it is crucial for the baby, the mother and the welfare of future societies.
Is your teenage daughter pregnant? Unplanned pregnancy is stressful for everyone involved; click HERE for some tips for helping you understand and cope with your daughter’s decision.