The Truth About Teen Parenting

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Unlike what alarmist government-funded programs and conservative-religious lobby groups will try to tell you, teen motherhood is neither a crisis nor an event that will destroy or ruin the life of a young mother.

Old studies that supposedly proved that teen pregnancy was a crisis were based on biased data with confounding variables (race, culture, social class, etc.). But this supposed “research” fulfilled the right-wing, socially conservative, political purposes of the time.

New data proves what people knew up until 50 years ago: teen pregnancy is natural and is NOT a crisis. (When was the greatest rate of teen pregnancy during the past century? During the 1950s. These were the mothers of the Baby Boomers!)

Here are some quotes from recent studies, illustrating the new knowledge about young motherhood:

“.. a review of the research evidence finds that the age at which pregnancy occurs has little effect on social outcomes. Many teenage mothers describe how motherhood makes them feel stronger, and marks a change for the better. Many fathers seek to remain connected with their children.” (Duncan, 2007)

“Moreover, we find that teen mothers may actually achieve higher evels of earnings over their adult lives than if they had postponed motherhood. Finally, we find evidence that while teenage childbearing does seem to increase public aid expenditures immediately after a teen birth, this “negative” consequence of teenage childbearing is not a permanent one, in that teen mothers use less public aid in their late 20s as their earnings rise and their children age.” (Hotz, McElroy, & Sanders, 1999).

Of young mothers who had left foster care: …”becoming a parent meant a positive change in their otherwise chaotic lives. Their experience of motherhood brought about love and enjoyment,
and it signified continuity and fulfillment of a void. For some young mothers, the child provided a focus in their lives and a drive to achieve a position.” –Barn and Mantonavi (2007, page 236-237)

Look at your family trees. My guess is that almost all of your female ancestors prior to 1900 were teen mothers when they had their first babies.

And, existing social class that a woman has grown up in indicates that social class she and her child will be in — NOT the age at which she has given birth! A mother who has grown up middle-class does NOT automatically become a “welfare mom” just because she started a family when young:

“Teen mothers’ life trajectories reflected legacies of unequal life chances that began in childhood and persisted into their 30s. Mothers with childhood advantages fared better over time than impoverished mothers, and a legacy of advantage contributed to a cushion of safety and opportunity for their teenaged children. Conclusion: The powerful legacy of social class and racial divisions on teen mothers’ long-term outcomes challenges the view that teen mothering leads to a downward spiral with negative repercussions for mothers and children” — SmithBattle (2007).

Not only this, but recent research has shown that there’s no good reason to postpone childbearing, especially postponing it until you can no longer conceive. Nature made women to be their most fertile between the ages of 16 and 26. Age-related infertility begins it’s slow climb at around age 27. So, whey are women waiting until their 30s or even 40s to try to conceive? It is their individual choice to do so, but if they do, then I do not believe they “deserve” another woman’s baby to fill that need. It was their own choice to wait, and to take the risk that conception would not possible.. Whitley & Kirmayer (2008) mention that the average age of first births in Canada in 2003 was 28, compared to 22 in 1972.

“Don’t be selfish! Think of that poor couple who can’t have a baby of their own!”* — my father’s words to me when i was crying my eyes out, wanting desperately to keep my baby.

We as young mothers were (and are) supposed to put the wants and needs of adoptive parents before our own, to give away our babies in order to allow them to “build their families.” We are called selfish, self-centred, and immature for wanting to keep our babies. (But does anyone apply these adjectives to older, married mothers who have children? No, because it is only teen mothers who are considered “not worthy” to have babies at all.)

Is it any wonder that a teen parent not only has to fight for the right to raise her baby, but also for her basic human right to the support to keep her family together — and on top of that, she has the social stress of the stigma against her? To show how incredibly unnecessary and inappropriate this stigma is, Whitley and Kirmayer (2008) found that it is now being applied to women in their early 20s!

“Anglophone Euro-Canadian mothers in their early 20s may now be experiencing aspects of social exclusion traditionally associated with ‘teenage mothers.’ This may have a deleterious effect on health.”

I was forced to leave high school in 1979 when I became pregnant – that’s what girls did. I worked on courses by correspondence. It wasn’t even an option to stay in school. This exiling and ostracization was barbarous to do this to any woman — and I thought that this inhumane, discriminatory, and backward practice had ended — but then I read this, written in 2008:

Girls are forced out of the mainstream education system because they are pregnant or have given birth. The consequences for the young mothers and their children are dramatic… there is a los tgeneration of teenage girls who hve become pregnant in the last two to three years and have effectively ‘fallen through the net.'” (Lall, 2008)

What we need are strong programs that support young mothers, without exclusion, without limitation. Programs that recognize that young children NEED their mothers at home, and that mothering as a career is JUST as important as any other career. Not only that, but recognizing that becoming a mother can be a powerful incentive for a woman to advance her education. Here is one study’s recommendations about helping young mothers:

We suggest that the UK Government adopts a broader approach to addressing social exclusion associated with teenage pregnancy, and one which: values and supports full-time mothering as well as gaining skills; affords teenage mothers the same rights as less vulnerable mothers; fosters supportive social networks and enables the young women to engage actively in the process of their own inclusion. (Austerberry & Wiggins, 2007).

Related Reading:

Austerberry, H., & Wiggins, M. (2007). Taking a pro-choice perspective on promoting inclusion of teenage mothers: Lessons from an evaluation of the Sure Start Plus programme. Critical Public Health, 17(1), 3-15.

Duncan, S. (2007). What’s the problem with teenage parents? And what’s the problem with policy? Critical Social Policy, 27(3), 307-334.

Gibbs, N. (2002). Making time for baby. Time Magazine, April 15, 2002.,9171,1002217,00.html .

Hotz, V. J., McElroy, S. W., & Sanders, S. G. (1999). Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Natural Experiment.

Hope, T., Wilder, E. I., & Watt, T. T. (2003). Pregnancy, pregnancy resolution, and juvenile delinquency. The Sociological Quarterly, 44(4), 555-576.

Lall, M. (2007). Exclusion from school: Teenage pregnancy and the denial of education. Sex Education, 7(3), 219-237.

Luker, K. (1996). Dubious conceptions: The politics of teenage pregnancy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Oberlander, S. E., Black, M. M., Starr, R. H. (2007). African American adolescent mothers and grandmothers: A multigenerational approach to parenting. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39(1-2), 37-46.

Richards, J., Papworth, M., Corbett, S., & Good, J. (2007). Adolescent motherhood: A Q-methodological re-evaluation of psychological and social outcomes. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17(5) 347-362.

Shanok, A. F., & Miller, L. (2007). Stepping up to motherhood among inner-city teens. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(3), 252-261

Smith-Battle, L. (2007a). ‘I wanna have a good future’: Teen mothers’ rise in educational aspirations, competing demands, and limited school support. Youth and Society, 38(3), 348-371.

SmithBattle, L. (2007b). Legacies of advantage and disadvantage: The case of teen mothers. Public Health Nursing, 24(5), 409-420.

Solinger, R. (2000). Wake up little Susie: Single pregnancy and race before Roe v. Wade. New York: Routledge.

Whitley, R., & Kirmayer, L. J. (2008). Perceived stigmatisation of young mothers: An exploratory study of psychological and social experience. Social Science and Medicine, 66(2), 339-348.

Zeck, W., Bjelic-Radisic, V., Haas, J., & Greimel, E. (2007). Impact of adolescent pregnancy on the future life of young mothers in terms of social, familial, and educational changes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(4), 380-388.

* The sad irony is that this “poor infertile couple” that i was supposed to give my child to, to satisfy THEIR needs, then went on to have two children of their own. So there was absolutely NO reason for this adoption to occur. They could have children of their own – they did not need mine.


11 thoughts on “The Truth About Teen Parenting

    Lois Luckovich said:
    April 16, 2010 at 9:57 am

    I agree absolutely, pregnancy at age 40 was torture, should have done it when I was young and strong.

    And should my daughter ever come home pregnant I shall be delighted to help raise my grandchild!


    Peach said:
    April 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Excellent article!

    Myst1998 said:
    April 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    GREAT post Cedar. Thanks for sharing with us those studies and the information most of us knew already but were never allowed to be heard.

    Fantastic research.

    Kittz said:
    April 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    thank you Cedar..for this common sense post. I really wonder how people can think that there is something ‘wrong” with nature!! Nature intended for babies to be conceived and born to young fertile healthy parents. It has always been so.

    Society should be accomodating and promoting the young and fertile, rather than demonizing young parents and stealing their children.

    Interesting that at a time when there is so much emphasis on “getting back to the earth” and ‘going green’ and using natural products…that the natural family is being scorned and abused as old-fashioned and even unhealthy.

    Mary said:
    April 17, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Excellent post! I was just having a similar discussion with a friend. When I had my first baby I was unmarried and young, and my family tried to get me to give up my son for adoption. I didn’t have a lot of money or a great job but I was fiercely independent and eventually made my way back to college and now enjoy a career in the corporate world. My kids remember a wonderful early childhood, lots of love and fun, they were completely oblivious to the fact that my income was low at the time. Even my more well off friends struggled financially when they were young, most families do! Now that I have grandchildren and I am in my mid-forties, I can’t imagine having babies at my age. I was much more energetic and baby-focused in my early twenties than I am now. I think that contributed to my kids’ happiness much more than a large income would have. Nature meant for women to give birth when they are young, not wait until they have finished college, grad school, dated a man for 5 years while starting career, get married and wait another 5 years before starting a family, make sure you are well established in your career, blah, blah, blah. We don’t have the energy in our 40’s that we did in our early 20’s!

    […] The Truth About Teen Parenting « Adoption Critique […]

    unsignedmasterpiece said:
    April 19, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    This isn’t about the post which I thought was excellent btw. It’s about the photo on your header. The waters seem to have gotten a little rougher.

    I hope this new imagery means the waters have been stirred up in the whole adoption debate by you, me and everybody else trying their darndest to get the real story out there and change some things.

    Gwen Styles said:
    April 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Very well written! Thanks for sharing.

    […] recently read a blog titled “The Truth About Teen Pregnancies” which I felt very moved when I saw it due to the fact that this person provided several […]

    hawaii29 said:
    December 15, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I really enjoyed reading your blog, that I wrote about your blog on my page as well. I think the points you’ve pointed out are very important, because many people today associate teen parenting with negative outcomes. I believe it’s very important for others to know that these outcomes do not last for too long. In my psychology class, I learned that in order to keep up with stereotypes, investigators purposely show biased information due to the fact that they do not want other people to see otherwise, which is another reason why I agree with your statement. I think that more people shoud consider the postives in teen motherhood rather than the negatives. All in all, excellent blog post!

    7rin said:
    July 13, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Nicely put. :}

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