Teenage pregnancy has been a controversial topic for many years, but for centuries that wasn’t the case. In the middle ages, women were married young and expected to produce heirs. Then in the days where everyone lived on farms, they married young and had as many kids as they could to help on the farm. My grandparent’s married young, they were 17 and 20, and had four daughters in seven years. They are both Catholic and did not believe in birth control of any kind. With the invention of birth control, the stigma of being a teenage mom started to occur.
Before then, a lot of people believed in having as many children as you could. According to Kramer and Lancaster, before birth control young women gave birth shortly following puberty. Teen birth rates in hunting and farming cultures vary between 135 and 279 per 1000 women ages 15 to 19. The strongest health risk associated with pregnancy is with teen mothers under the age of 15. Health risks include low birth weight, premature babies, and birth complications (2010). Today, there are television shows about being a teenage mother. Being a teen mom is now seen as something to be ashamed of, but at the same time it is glorified through pop culture.
Akella and Jordan used Bandura’s Social Learning Theory to try and explain why teenagers would choose motherhood over an education and career. A teen mom is more likely to face issues such as poverty, little to no education, and engage in risky behaviors that can lead to poor health and child welfare issues (2015). It is difficult for teen moms to finish school due to not having a good support system.
“People learn new behaviors by watching others in a social situation, absorb it and then imitate that behavior. The Social Learning Theory is based on four fundamental premises consisting of differential association, definitions, differential reinforcements and imitations.” (Akella & Jordan, 2015). Teens social circle can affect their behavior either positively or negatively. A lot of teenage mothers are daughters of teenage mothers and are following in their mothers’ footsteps. It is normal to them. If the teens friends get pregnant, then the teenager doesn’t see think of it as a bad thing.
Ten years ago, there was a small-town high school that had a controversy due to quite a few teenage girls getting pregnant. It came out later that there was a pregnancy pact. Supposedly, these girls had decided together to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Around the same time, teenagers Jaime Spears and Bristol Palin had children. Pop culture made them, and other teen moms, out to be role models. In a way, they made it so that other teens wanted to follow in their footsteps. Teens don’t all have the common sense to realize that these teen moms had the financial means to take care of the children or how hard being a teen mother would truly be.
Craig and Stanley found that “Young people are now far more likely to have sex before the age of 16 than 30 years ago. Ignorance of the importance of contraception, or inability to access appropriate help frequently leads to unplanned pregnancy; the likelihood of pregnancy is then much greater for those engaging in sexual activity earlier than 16 years of age.” (2006). Youth who see no future career, come from low-income backgrounds, and are ignorant when it comes to safe sex often lead to teenage pregnancy.
Peer pressure can lead to pregnancy also, especially when teens self-esteem is low, and they see sex as a way to make someone love them. Many teen parents feel isolated and hostility from others due to the stigma of having a child at a young age. The teens pregnancy was often unplanned and was a result of casual sex, and often their partner leaves them when they discover their pregnant or even before they find out their pregnant. The teen mothers find it difficult to find support due to the stigma attached to the pregnancy. The “bad” reputation is only seen by the young women and can have long lasting effects on them such as low self-esteem and self-worth (Craig and Stanley, 2006).
Connolly, Heifetz, and Bohr analyzed 17 qualitative studies on teen pregnancy in Child Protective Services and found seven themes:
- Infant filing an emotion void;
- lack of consistent education and lack of sexual education;
- motherhood adversities;
- mistrust of others and social stigma;
- perception of motherhood as positive stabilizing;
- internal strengths and wanting to do better; and
- supports as contributing to positive motherhood experience. (2012)
Teenage mothers in Child Protective Services wanted someone to love them. They saw a baby as a way to fill that void from being in the system. They also saw pregnancy as a way to give up their education, which in result ended up with them missing sexual education programs and not learning about safe sex. The teens ended up learning it from friends or through their own experiences. Them being in the system and being moved around multiple times caused them to lose their trust in adults. They believed that they would have their babies taken away from them due to the label of being in the system.
It caused them to back away from any support they system could have given them. On the other side, a lot of teen mothers used their pregnancy to better themselves because they had a reason to. They wanted to do better for their children and keep them out of the system that traumatized them. These mothers built a strong support system for them and their children and used the resources out there to better themselves for their children and to give them the best life possible. A lot of teen mothers in the system have underlying mental health issues that were never properly addressed that worsened when they had a child. In the end, the study found that they needed youth programs focusing on education, employment, and sexual education in order to better prevent teenage pregnancy. (Connolly et al., 2012)
Kuckertz and McCabe studied teen pregnancy and the attitudes of their peers. They found that the peers believed that it was easy to prevent pregnancy due to the easy access of condoms and contraception such as birth control and the morning after pill. The teens tended to believe that they were invincible to pregnancy due to the use of condoms and birth control. It is known that no form of birth control is one hundred percent effective except for abstinence, or it should be known.
The studied showed that the unplanned pregnancy was a lot of times a result of improper use of contraception. Pregnancy was found to affect the teens negatively in almost every part of their life, from personal to academic. It was also found that a majority of teens believed that their pregnant peers deserved the stigma and negative attitudes due to them having believed that they had multiple partners or having character flaws such as low astuteness.
“These findings are consistent with the literature on victim stigmatization which suggests that people who believe in a just world may be more likely to stigmatize and blame victims across a variety of negative situation.” (Kuckertz & McCabe, 2011) It was also found that female peers were less likely to stigmatize their pregnant peers than male peers.