Since 2001, the United States hasn’t made much advancement in reducing the number of unintended pregnancies (49% of all pregnancies are not planned). These rates have been increasing and remain fairly high overall. Teen pregnancy also poses a concern since more than four out of five unintended pregnancies occurred in teens 19 years old and younger. The number or unplanned teen pregnancies ending in abortion has also increased for teens 15 to 17 years old between 2001 and 2006.
Statistics from a 2011 CDC report uncovered even more upsetting information about teen pregnancy. Among teens ages 15–19 who experienced unintended pregnancies and gave birth:
- 50.1% admitted to doing nothing to prevent pregnancy.
- 31.4% thought they couldn’t get pregnant at the time.
- 23.6% did not use birth control because their partner didn’t want to use it.
- And (pay attention parents) - 22.1% said they didn’t mind getting pregnant.
These teen pregnancy statistics should have parents on alert. Adults presume that teens understand that getting pregnant is not the best idea. Yet, when surveyed, less than half of all teens indicate that they are getting a clear message that teen pregnancy is wrong and almost a fourth of teens did not care if they became pregnant. Because of this, when discussing teenage relationships and sex, part of this conversation should include discussion about pregnant teenagers (how these teens cope and how to prevent such pregnancies in the first place).
Parents -- Discuss WHY Teen Pregnancy Isn’t Good:
It is very important that parents do not assume that teens buy into the notion that teen pregnancy is a bad idea. Sadly, our culture tends to glamorize teen pregnancy; very often, teens do not realize the full implications of what it is like to be a child raising a child. They may not realize how difficult it is to be a typical teen parent, not a celebrity pregnant teenager -- one who doesn’t live in a mansion, has a handful of nannies or has the money and resources to buy cute baby clothes and accessories.
In reality, according to a 2010 National Center for Health Statistics report, when teens were asked, If you got pregnant now/got a female pregnant now, how would you feel? – ONLY:
- 57.6% of female teens indicated that they would be very upset.
- 47% of male teens expressed that they would be very upset.
- 28.5% of female teens said they would be just a little upset.
- 34.3% of the male teens stated they would be just a little upset.
Additional results from this report also point to some distressing attitudes teenagers are holding onto about teen pregnancy. When asked if it is okay for an unmarried female to have a child:
- 70.8% of female teens either strongly agreed or agreed to this statement.
- 63.9% of male teens either strongly agreed or agreed to this statement.
- Only 27.7% of female teens and 35.6% of male teens indicated any type of disagreement with this statement
Data like this seem to indicate that teenagers may NOT be viewing teen pregnancy as being serious or damaging. In fact, only 17.7% of teen girls and 12.4% of teen boys said that the main reason they have yet to have sex is because they did not want to become pregnant or get a girl pregnant. This should make parents realize that if their teen hasn’t has sex yet, the reason is likely to be something other than fear of teen pregnancy.
So parents, these attitudes appear to be a big obstacle to overcome. You can help to prevent teen pregnancy and overcome these attitudes by:
- Providing appropriate education to reduce or postpone onset of sexual activity.
- Increasing teens’ motivation to avoid pregnancy.
- Teaching teens about the how pregnancy occurs.
- Providing access to contraception and encouraging use of more effective birth control methods.
- Strengthening teens’ skills to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners.
- It Happens to "Good Girls" Too! At 16, a "good girl" became a mother... here, she shares her story.
- Why Teenage Pregnancy Is a Dumb Idea in General
- Another resource to try is having your teen watch the MTV show Teen Mom (though I would suggest that you watch it together because it may present situations that could lead to in-depth discussion between you and your teen). Teen Mom is an American reality series that served as a spin-off of to the show 16 and Pregnant. Teen Mom chronicles the lives of some of the teenagers originally on 16 and Pregnant as they navigate their first few years of motherhood. The show presents a good and fairly realistic portrayal of the challenges and struggles of teenage parents highlighting how relationships change... especially those of family, friends, and the couples themselves.
- 16 and Pregnant is also on MTV and each episode features a different teenage girl in high school who is sharing her story of dealing with the hardships of teen pregnancy. In my opinion, this show does a good job showing the realities of being a pregnant teenager. The website StayTeen.org has links where you can watch 16 and Pregnant episodes. It also allows you to click on a discussion guide link for each episode that summarizes it and poses questions about situations that may have come up in the episode, gives you things to think about, discuss and keep in mind. Plus, they include related resources.
Most teens don’t want to be parents, so hearing real stories could influence their sexual decisions. You can also help your teen set meaningful goals for the future -- make sure they see how an unintended teen pregnancy could alter their lives and prevent them from reaching their goals. Also, don’t be afraid to let them know the facts:
- Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school and more likely to end up on welfare.
- Teen mothers have babies that are at greater risk of being premature, have low birth weight and/or mental retardation.
- Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to grow up in poverty and become victims of abuse and/or neglect.
Finally, these are not discussions reserved only for female teens and their parents. The nearly 900,000 teen girls who become pregnant each year don’t do it alone. Parents need to talk to their teen sons, too, because the boys also need to understand that teen pregnancy has serious consequences for them as well. BOTH teen girls AND boys need to have talks with their parents about sexual consequences, responsibility/contraception, sex, love, values and the reality of teen pregnancy.
- Back: What Teens Want To Know When You Talk About Sex
- Next Tip: Parents -- Pay Attention to Your Teen
Abma JC, Martinez GM, Copen CE."Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006–2008”. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics. 2010. 23(30):1-47. Accessed October 2011.
CDC. "Prepregnancy contraceptive use among teens with unintended pregnancies resulting in live births: Pregnancy risk assessment monitoring system (PRAMS), 2004–2008". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. January 20, 2012. 61(2): 25-39. Accessed 1/2012.
Lawrence B. Finer, Mia R. Zolna. “Unintended pregnancy in the United States: Incidence and disparities, 2006.” Contraception. 25 August 2011. Article in press. Accessed via private subscription.