School of Family and Consumer Sciences at The University of Akron
Professor Susan D. Witt, Ph.D.
To accompany Chapter 9
In 2006, about 33% of all births in the United States were to unmarried mothers.  Each year in the U.S. about 800,000 adolescent girls become pregnant.  About half a million of these girls give birth to children.  About 95% of adolescent mothers plan to keep and rear their children themselves.  It is unlikely that adolescent mothers will marry the fathers of their children.  Most babies born to adolescent mothers are fathered by men who are not in their teens.
While there has been an increase in recent years in older, career-oriented women opting to have a child without being married, the largest group of unmarried mothers (and the group which is likely to have the most problems with pregnancy and parenting) is adolescents.  Ad indicated above, each year about 800,000 teenage girls in the U.S. become pregnant, and about half a million of these girls give birth.  We should keep in mind that adolescent girls giving birth is not a new phenomenon (the 1989 birth rate for girls 15-17 years of age equaled that of 1975).  The difference between the 1960s and 1970s and now, however, is that girls then were much more likely to marry the fathers of their babies or to give those babies up for adoption.  Adoption is much less likely today; only about 5% of pregnant teens release their babies for adoption.  A unique situation for the never married single parent is that the child lives with only one parent right from the start.  For teenage moms, very often the father "disappears" after she becomes pregnant or has the baby.  We know that fathers are very important to the development of children, yet for unmarried women who have children, very often there is no consistent male role model for the child.  Teenage mothers, in particular, are also much more likely to live in poverty than married mothers.  Frequently, teenage mothers must rely on public assistance to help raise their children, and if the teenager is living in poverty herself before becoming pregnant, she is much more likely to continue living in poverty with her child, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Because adolescents are such a large part of this group, and because adolescents are much more likely than older parents to face social problems as a result of their situation, we will focus here on the common situations that teen moms face.
Births to teenage mothers are associated generally with problems at several levels - biological, economic, social and psychological. It should be kept in mind, however, that the outcomes for teen moms are diverse.  Many teenage mothers are able to raise their children to be responsible, confident, capable, caring individuals and are able to do so against long odds sometimes.  Many teenage mothers manage to finish school, work and have a good family life for their children.  It is a fact, however, that being a teenage mom puts an individual at higher risk for all sorts of problems.
Many teenage moms have psychological and economic problems before the birth of their baby.  They are more economically disadvantaged and less psychologically mature than older mothers.  They are more likely to experience birth problems and complications and have far fewer resources in meeting those problems.
There is increased risk of negative biological outcome of the adolescent birth itself.  Teenage mothers suffer more pregnancy complications and have babies with problems more often than do older mothers.  Prematurity and low birth weight – which increase the likelihood of cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and epilepsy in these babies - occur most often in the babies of teenage mothers.  One reason for this is that the mother's body is itself still developing and that developing body is now having to gestate and develop another human being.  Teenagers also frequently have poor diets, eating lots of non-nutritious foods, not getting enough sleep, taking risks - none of which bodes well for the developing baby.
As mentioned earlier, there is greater likelihood that adolescent mothers and their children will live in poverty, with all the problems that involves.  Teenage mothers are less likely to finish their education or seek higher education, have fewer job skills, and thus are less likely to be able to raise themselves up out of poverty.  The cycle of poverty continues with their children having a harder time of breaking free from poverty.
Children of teenage mothers face several psychological risks.  Young mothers are less mature and less able to provide stable living arrangements, so children experience more moves and more changes in caretakers. One thing we know about young children is that they need stability and consistency in their lives; having to move a lot and living with different people all the time leads to confusion and feelings of insecurity for them.
Teen moms are less psychologically mature.  A study of teen moms (Osofsky, Hann, Peebles, 1993) found that adolescent mothers were less independent, less certain of themselves, and less trusting of others.  They have a diffuse sense of their own identities, lower self-esteem, and greater susceptibility to depression.  Think for a moment about the ideas of Maslow and Erikson.  Maslow's ideas about the hierarchy of needs would suggest that because teen moms are less likely to be able to provide basic needs for themselves and generally need much assistance from others, they are not at a good time in their lives to have children.  Also, because of the likelihood of unstable living arrangements, the feelings of security and safety that are a part of the hierarchy of needs are not there (for the moms or their children).  While Erikson believed that adults have a basic need to create and nourish new life, he also believed that adolescence is a time of discovering your own identity, trying on different personas to find the one that is you.  The individual who is trying to forge her own identity is not at a good time in her life to be having a child.
It has also been found that because teen moms are more psychologically immature, they are less competent with the caregiving of their child. Teen moms are more likely to prematurely foster independence in their children by pushing the babies to hold their own bottles, sit up too early, and scramble for toys before they can get them.  As infants become toddlers, though, those same mothers often reverse their behavior and try to overly control their children by not letting them explore freely, not giving them their choices in activities and toys, putting them in the playpen for long periods of time.  Later, children of teenage mothers have a greater likelihood of academic difficulties, school failure, and behavior problems.  Below is a list of the risk factors and protective factors associated with the children of adolescents.
Risk Factors:
- Living in poverty with attendant problems of frequent residence changes, of living in high crime and violence areas, and experiencing changes in caretakers and male support.
- Birth complications such as prematurity and low birth weight.
- Poor parenting from mothers, often because of immaturity, youth and inexperience.
- Absent fathers, thus less likelihood of male role models.
- Behavior and school problems (it's difficult to be on top of school work when you've been up all night with a fussy baby.
- Lack of social support from relatives/friends.
Protective Factors:
- Being a boy.  Boys who are parents don't experience as many negative outcomes as teenage moms do.
- Having an easy, adaptable temperament.
- Having intelligence and problem-solving skills that lead to better coping.
- Mother continuing her education.
- Mother limiting number of subsequent children.
- Mother entering a stable marriage.
- Mother having high self-esteem.
There are many teenage mothers who are successful at raising their children.  There are some factors that seem to play a part in whether or not teen moms are successful at raising their children.  These include: 
- Using contraceptives and controlling their fertility.  Having one child when you are a teenager makes life difficult and complicated.  Having another obviously makes life much more complicated and difficult.  It is less likely that the teen mom will continue her education or be able to get a job to support her children when she has more than one child.
- Staying in school or returning to school and completing their education.  This is one issue that is vitally important for young women.  Completing their education and getting further training or college courses beyond high school makes a real difference in the lives of young mothers.  Today many schools have special programs or in-school child care so that teens who have children can stay in school more easily.  Many schools offer child development and parenting classes for teen parents to help them with parenting skills.
- Maintaining a high level of motivation and high educational goals for themselves.
- Entering a stable marriage with a man who provides support and help.
- Having strong family support.
- Being aware of the outside resources that are available to them and taking advantage of those resources when necessary.  The WIC program, for example, provides formula and milk for infants and children and is available to many moms.
There are many programs that are designed to help teenage mothers. Programs for teen moms generally stress using birth control, encourage goal making, and foster healthy self-esteem and confidence.  Programs also can show teenage mothers some of the basics of taking care of a child and teach basic child development so these moms are better able to parent their children.  Having realistic expectations of children is important when it comes to issues of discipline and developmental tasks.  Programs that teach these things to teen moms are very valuable in that they help young mothers understand how best to discipline their children and when they can reasonably expect children to do things.  For example, one study found that many teenage parents think that a child should be potty trained by the age of one.  Programs that teach basic child development can show teen moms what happens when a child is learning to go to the bathroom and help them to understand when it is reasonable to expect this behavior.
There are more programs nowadays for teenage fathers as well as teenage mothers.  In the Cleveland area, for example, there is a program called National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development.  Charles Ballard began this program because of his own situation of growing up without a father.  His work as a social worker with teen moms led him to seek out the fathers and organize a Teen Father program for them.  Fathers in his program must meet three requirements:  1) They must legitimize the child, 2) Be in school or a General Education Development (GED) Program, and 3) Have a job.  His group discusses things like paternal responsibility and the importance of a father in a child's life.  These programs are important resources for adolescent parents who often don't receive a lot of social support.  All states have programs and resources for adolescent parents.  It is important that teens know where to seek assistance when they need it to help them best parent their children.

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