Adolescent Pregnancy

Adolescent Pregnancy. Adolescent Pregnancy by Robert T. Brown, MD The following are some of the stark facts about...

Adolescent Pregnancy
by Robert T. Brown, MD

The following are some of the stark facts about a problem that has become to many Americans, a symbol of a national moral malaise. This article will attempt to present the facts about teen pregnancy, and it will offer some thoughts on what might be done to alleviate the problem, at least to some degree.

  Every year almost one million teenage girls become pregnant.
  More than half of them are 17 years old or younger when they have their first pregnancy.
  Approximately one-third of the girls who get pregnant carry their pregnancies to term and keep their babies.
  About another third have abortions, and the other third has spontaneous miscarriages.
 Only about five percent of pregnant girls put their babies up for adoption.
 Approximately 40 percent of young women become pregnant before they reach 20 years old.
  The United States of America has double the adolescent pregnancy and birth rates of any other industrialized country.
 The poorer the young woman, the more likely she will become a mother.
  Less than one-third of teens who have babies before the age of 18 finish high school.
  Almost half of all teen mothers end up on welfare.
  Less than 25 percent of births to teens occur within wedlock.
  The birth rate for teens has been declining in recent years, especially among African American girls (this is good news).


For almost all of human history, women began their careers as mothers when they were teenagers. Until the years preceding World War II, girls usually got married within a few years of reaching menarche (the first menstrual period), which occurred when the girls were 14 or 15 years old. Since there wasn’t any effective form of contraception, they tended to get pregnant soon after the wedding. Indeed, there were more teenage women who became parents in 1960 than there are now, but most of these women were married, or they got married while they were pregnant.

The major change in the situation has been the public acceptance of single motherhood along with recognition that women definitely need a complete education, at least through high school, if they are to be financially self-sufficient. Only about 25 percent of children grow up in a house with both birth parents these days, compared to more than 50 percent just 40 years ago. The increase in numbers of single parents due to divorce has led to a societal acceptance of single parenthood in general, with the consequence of societal acceptance of single teenage mothers as well, even if they’ve never been married.

Protective Factors

There are several factors that correlate with decreased risk of becoming a teen mother. Children who are raised by both parents from birth have a decreased risk of becoming sexually active. Teens who are regularly involved in their places of worship tend to delay the onset of sexual activity. Adolescents whose parents discuss sex with them are likely to delay onset of sexual relationships, as are teens who expect to go on to college. An additional factor that helps protect kids in this area is closeness or “connectedness” to their parents. Teenage girls who relate well to their parents tend to delay onset of sexual activity, and when they do become sexually active, they make better choices about contraception.

Factors That Increase Risk

Let’s focus on why some girls, unwed ones more specifically, become parents during their adolescence.

The reader should notice that I did not say choose to become pregnant. Many younger adolescents are not particularly developed in their ability to think as adults until they reach 15 or 16 years of age. At 12, 13, or 14 years old, adolescents are generally incapable of making decisions based on a reasoned understanding of the future consequences of their actions. Their brains have yet to develop the connections that allow them to think that way. Teens at this stage live much more in the moment than do older teens or adults. Adolescents often do not connect the actual act of intercourse with the real possibility of having a baby nine months later. This inability to perceive future consequences of current behavior is called cognitive immaturity.

Personal Myth
As part of growing up mentally, adolescents, especially early adolescents, experience what has been called a personal myth. This means that these teens feel as if they have special protection from risky behaviors and that bad consequences won’t happen to them. Fortunately, most of us grow out of this way of thinking by middle adolescence when we start getting more freedom from parental control. If the early adolescents who think this way do not have adequate supervision from parents and are not protected by some of the factors mentioned above, they will be at much higher risk for the onset of sexual activity with all of its consequences.

Low self-esteem
Girls who have low self-esteem or who are depressed may engage in sexual activity as a way of trying to make themselves feel better. Girls who have parents who are distracted or depressed may also feel the need to seek warmth and nurturing through sexual liaisons. Girls who abuse alcohol or drugs may not make very good choices about sex and contraception. And girls who do not have an effective male role model during their early and mid-adolescent years also may be vulnerable to the attentions of older men from whom these girls seek “fathering” as much as they seek romance and intimacy. These older men, however, are usually not motivated altruistically. They enter these relationships frequently because they find a younger woman easier to control. Some of these girls also are prey to men who want to prove to themselves that they are capable of fathering a child. We do know that on the average, the fathers of babies born to teen moms are at least four years older than the girls. So most of these men are adults, not teens.

Another factor putting girls at risk is lack of knowledge about how to avoid having sex and about contraception if they choose to have sex.

Wanted pregnancy
Finally, some girls get pregnant because they really want to. Some want to get pregnant in order to make their partners happy. Some girls carry the mistaken belief that the babies will give them love and nurturance. And some want to get pregnant because they see other girls in their social circles getting increased attention and what seems to them increased material benefit by being mothers. These girls tend not to have a real understanding of the negatives of adolescent parenthood.

Possible Solutions

Alleviation of some of the factors mentioned above might have a real impact on the pregnancy rate among adolescents in this country. Actions that we as a society could take include:

 Detecting girls with depression/low self-esteem when they are children or in very early adolescence.
  Doing all we can to ensure that girls have effective male role models, especially if their natural fathers are not active in their lives.
 Making sure that all teens are educated in how to avoid unwanted sexual activity.
 Making sure all teens know about effective contraception if they do choose to have sex.
 Making sure that teens know the risks that are caused by alcohol and drug use and that those with substance abuse problems are detected and treated.

One further factor that might diminish the sexual risks that adolescents take is to have a consistent and healthful portrayal of sex and its consequences in our media. This country has an obsession with sex in advertising and in entertainment, but the media usually doesn’t show the negative consequences of having sex. Frequently, people on TV or in the movies are depicted as having sex without consequences. The media also does a very poor job of showing kids how adults who are responsible act in situations in which they might engage in sex. Do popular TV shows depict characters actively saying that they probably ought not to have sex because pregnancy might ensue? Pressure by parents on companies that sponsor these programs could be a big help in this area.


Adolescence is a period in which the sexual self becomes developed and in which it is natural to want to discover one’s capabilities. As responsible adults, we ought to be providing our young people with the guidance and tools needed to get through this period in good shape, unencumbered by too early parenthood or the need for abortions.

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For more on Adolescent Pregnancy and statistics check out this next article by an obstetrician... go there ...

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Resources in the United States:

Planned Parenthood
- 24 hour hotline will direct you to the clinic nearest to you.

America's Pregnancy Helpline
1-888-4-OPTIONS - provides counseling and information regarding pregnancy options.

Emergency Contraception Information Project
1-888-NOT-2-LATE (1-888-668-2528)

National Office of Post Abortion Trauma

National Abortion Federation

National Adoption Center
1-800-862-3678 - dedicated to expanding adoption opportunities in the U.S.

Post-Abortion Project Rachel

The Independent Adoption Center

* June 2007 -- there are more resources in the U.S.A. on the Hotline page.

Resources on the Web:

Answers About Adoptions

Planned Parenthood

For Adoption Options and Information

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