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Underlying Causes Of Teen Pregnancy

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Before successfully preventing teen pregnancies among teenage girls, there are many underlying causes and facts about the dilemma that must be first exposed. Children from homes run by teenage mothers have to face almost insurmountable obstacles in life. The incidents of depression and mental health problems, the lack of father figures, and the high rate of poverty often connected to children in homes run by teenage mothers put them at serious disadvantages when compared to children raised in nuclear families. Many people believe that the implementation of sex education in schools and the addition of more federal aid for single parents are major causes for the country's high rate of teen pregnancies. The true purpose of sex education and federal aid is to help strengthen the mother and her child so that they can eventually lead productive lives.

Although teen pregnancy rates dropped significantly in the USA over the past decade, rates remain higher than in many other developed countries (Ventura et al., 2001; Flanigan, 2001). Almost 900,000 teenage girls still become pregnant each year in the USA and significant racial/ethnic disparities exist (Ventura et al., 2001). Given the adverse economic and health consequences stemming from teen pregnancy, including low birth weight and economic hardship, no one is claiming that the battle is won. Instead, experts are debating what motivated the decreases in sexual activity and increases in the use of contraceptives at first intercourse, and strategizing ways to continue the positive trends. Possible explanations for the good news include economic prosperity, more informed and cautious attitudes about sex, improved use of contraceptives, and funding of new teen pregnancy prevention efforts through welfare reform (Darroch and Singh, 1999; Flanigan, 2001).

Previous research has attributed a girl's increased risk of pregnancy to the possible consequences of a father leaving such as, lower family income, conflict at home and weak parental monitoring. Yet even when these factors were taken into account, the study found that a father's absence in itself seemed to put daughters at risk for having children early. Girls' whose fathers left before they were born or previous to age five were seven to eight times more at risk of becoming pregnant as an adolescent, than girls living with their fathers. A father's departure between ages six to thirteen suggested that teen girls are two to three times' at greater risk of becoming pregnant. (Psychology Today, 2003) Girls who see their single mothers date many partners may become primed for early sexual exploration. Or, a father's absence early in life may trigger doubts in girls about male reliability that hasten sexual activity and reproduction, as well as promote a preference for brief relationships.

Juvenile abuse of alcohol and other drugs is strongly associated with risk-taking behavior, including promiscuity. According to the 1999 National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) study "Dangerous Liaisons," increased promiscuity leads to a greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned teenage pregnancy (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse 1999). Adolescents aged fourteen and younger who use alcohol are twice more likely to engage in sexual behaviors than non-drinkers; drug users are five times more likely to be sexually active than youth who are drug-free. Teens between the age of fifteen and nineteen who drink are seven times more likely to have sex and twice as likely to have four or more partners than those who refrain from alcohol. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of teenagers say that sex while drinking or on drugs often produces unplanned pregnancies. An Ohio study of high school girls who tried cocaine indicated that these adolescents were five times more likely to have experienced an unintended pregnancy than peers who avoided cocaine (Rome, E.S., Rybicki, M.S., & Durant, R.H. 1998).

Nevertheless, the results suggested that preventive efforts should be initiated within the family, targeting systematic functioning, drug and alcohol problems, and violent behaviors. Secondary, efforts should be made when physical or sexual abuse is uncovered, or when adolescents engage in delinquent acts or substance abuse. Once a teenager becomes pregnant, intervention must focus on her vulnerability to abuse. Unfortunately, teenage mothers are more likely to associate with abusive partners (Berenson, San Miguel, & Wilkinson, 1992a.).

A 1990 study showed that almost one-half of all teenage mothers and over three-quarters of unmarried teen mothers began receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy). The growth in single-parent families remains the single most important cause for increased poverty among children over the last twenty years, as documented in the 1998 Economic Report of the President. Out-of-wedlock childbearing (as opposed to divorce) is currently the driving force behind the growth in the number of single parents, and half of first out-of-wedlock births are to teens (Sawhill, I.V. 1998). Therefore, reducing teen pregnancy and child-bearing is an obvious place to anchor serious efforts to reduce poverty in future generations.

Adolescent pregnancy is a complex problem. There is no single or



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