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Teenage Pregnancy in America Essay

In the United States, more than 420,000 children are born to teenage mothers each year, which is evidence that teenage pregnancy is a crucial problem in America (Schwabish 74). Many of the social problems in the United States such as welfare, abortion, school dropout, taxes, and crime are caused by teenage pregnancy (Burnett 58). To begin, children who are born to teenage mothers are more likely to grow up in a poor mother-only family, live in a poor or low-income neighborhood, and experience high risks to both their health status and school achievement (Schwabish 74). However, the children of a teenage mother did absolutely nothing to deserve the obstacles in life they must endure. Many causes contribute to teenage pregnancy including a gradual change in morals and social norms, hopelessness in poor communities, lack of contraceptive use, and an increase of single-parent households and un-wed births. Nevertheless, to prevent teenage pregnancy parents must become more involved with their children’s daily lives; sex education programs should be based on the particular school’s location; contraceptives need to be simple to obtain and a law should be proposed that requires pregnant teenage women to prove they are able to provide and support their child.

Overview

The overall trend of teenage pregnancy in the United States since 1950 has slightly decreased. In 1950, the U.S teenage birthrate peaked, but most teenage mothers were married (Clemmitt 3). However, by 1957, the teenage birthrate hit an all time high of 96.3 births per 1,000 women (Clemmitt 3). During the 1950s, marriage was often used as a cover-up for pregnancy, and nearly half of the women in 1950 were married by age 20 (Glazer 10). In 1980, premarital sex became more common and caused an increase in the average age of marriage (Clemmitt 3). On the other hand, according to a recent article by Marcia Clemmitt, the non-marriage trend starts with African Americans in low-income communities and quickly spread across the country, and by 1990, 91% of African American teenage births were illegitimate. Clemmitt also states that between 2005 and 2006, teenage pregnancies decreased significantly to only 50 teenage births out of 1,000 girls, which is the lowest rate in history. Clemmitt concludes that the teenage birthrates slowed somewhat, and only rose 1% from 2006 to 2007 (Clemmitt 26-30).

Causes

One major cause of teenage pregnancy is change in morals, norms, and increasing social acceptance of sexual intercourse. Adolescents are sexually active at an early age and it has become acceptable in many communities. According to a recent article by Glazer, more than half of all teenagers report having had intercourse at least once during their high school years. Glazer goes on to state that in the past, the only form of birth control needed was abstinence before marriage. On the other hand, Glazer concludes that, based on social norms today, abstinence before marriage would be almost impossible to re-create. Glazer further explains that teenage pregnancy has also become a social norm in high schools all over the country, and in the U.S, pregnant girls who attend high school have become more accepted by their peers (Glazer 3-6). On the other hand, only 51% of teenage mothers receive a high school diploma before the age of 22 compared to 89% of teenagers who did not give birth (Clemmitt 8). In addition, only 2% of teenage mothers receive a college degree compared with 27% of Americans overall (Clemmitt 7).

In conclusion, the more socially acceptable teenage pregnancy becomes, the more comfortable teenagers will become with unprotected sex and pregnancy. Furthermore, teenage pregnancy norms differ for certain ethnic groups. African American adults have reported exhibiting weaker norms against non-marital childbearing than any other ethnic group (Mollborn 307). However, white adolescents living in predominantly white neighborhoods report being more embarrassed about teenage pregnancy than did African American adolescents living in predominantly African American neighborhoods (Mollborn 314). Not only do weaker norms about teenage pregnancy among African Americans affect adolescent’s chances of pregnancy, but also economic and personal stress. The combination of poverty and personal distress in teenagers often leads to pregnancy (Clemmitt 19). The second cause of teenage pregnancy is an increase in single-parent households and un-wed births. Among African Americans, nearly 96% of teenage births are out of wedlock compared to the overall percentage of out of wedlock births in the U.S, which is 83% (Schwabish 74). Many conservatives argue that welfare policies encourage single motherhood, and contribute to out-of-wedlock births (Glazer 5).

In the U.S, 40% of all mothers and most teenage mothers are single when they give birth (Glazer 3). One major factor that helps contribute to out-of-wedlock births is programs such as the AFDC, which is a program that provides monthly support to unmarried mothers. AFDC recipients are also qualified to receive food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing. In a recent article by Glazer, Robert Rector states that the AFDC program aggressively penalizes the act of marriage, because upon getting married a mother loses her benefits. Jean Sabharwal, the Director of Family Care Center in Lexington Kentucky, explains a similar outlook on single mother aid in Glazers article when she states that the center’s goal is to prevent young welfare mothers from becoming pregnant again, but about 40% of the participants became pregnant again within 18 months after the program. Furthermore, Sabharwal explains that between 1993 and 1999, the income provided by the government for a single mother with two children more than doubled from $1,700 to $3,900 per year.

In addition, Glazer goes on to state that the monthly welfare benefit for a single mother with two children averages $403 a month, and the monthly food stamp grant would add roughly $332 per month. Glazer concludes that they do not have the sense that taxpayers are supporting them, and they act like it’s something they’re owed just because they’re alive (Glazer 3- 24). Overall, many single mothers take advantage of welfare and programs such as AFDC. The third cause of teenage pregnancy in America is lack of hope in poor communities. The future for most of the poorly educated population has become nothing to look forward to for many adolescents. However, the birth of a baby satisfies some deep psychological needs; for a teenage girl who received little attention throughout childhood, pregnancy is one way she can obtain the attention she desires (Glazer 6). Overall, in communities in which poverty rates are high and hope is low, teenage girls are more susceptible to teenage pregnancy. For many teenage girls, a child of their own provides them with the hope and love they lacked before. Marilyn Benoit, who treated inner-city teenagers when she was the director of outpatient psychiatry at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, shares a story of a teenage girl who lives in a community where violence and poverty is rampant.

Benoit explains that the teenage girl, who felt hopeless as the result of the loss of loved ones, desired to become pregnant in order to gain a sense of accomplishment (Glazer 6). The final factor contributing to teenage pregnancy is lack of contraceptive use. Mahad Ibrahim, a student at West Potomac High School, explains that boys know where to get condoms, but there is anxiety about walking into a drugstore to purchase them because “you’re not supposed to have sex as a teen” (Glazer 7). If contraceptives were more easily available, children like Mahad Ibrahim could obtain contraceptives without uncomfortable interaction. According to a recent article by Glazer, 44% of 17-to-19 year old males did not use a condom the last time they engaged in sexual intercourse (Glazer 3). On the other hand, in 1988, 53% of females did not use a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse (Clemmitt 3). For adolescents, the fear of judgment by others often outweighs the consequences of unprotected intercourse.

Birth control pills are the most popular form of contraceptive used in the U.S (Clemmitt 7). Conversely, in the U.S, fewer than 18 percent of health clinics within schools distribute contraceptives on-site, and fewer than 28 percent provide teenagers with prescriptions for contraceptives (Glazer 7). The U.S has the highest birthrate of any other country in the world. Compared to France, Germany, and The Netherlands, the U.S is the only country that has a higher birthrate than contraceptive use (Clemmitt 8). For example, in 2007 Germany’s teenage pregnancy rate was about one-fourth of the U.S rate; in France, the teenage birthrate was one-sixth of the U.S, rate; in The Netherlands, the teenage birthrate was one-ninth of the U.S rate (Clemmitt 22).

Solutions

The first solution to prevent teenage pregnancy is for all public schools to provide a mandatory sex education class. Adolescents must be educated in public schools on the risks of intercourse without the use of contraceptives. Not only should schools provide sex education classes, but they also should provide school-based clinics in areas where the teenage pregnancy rates are highest. For example, in a recent article Glazer states that in Utah, teenagers do not become sexually active until their late teens due to their prevalent Mormon backgrounds. Glazer goes on to explain that school clinics would be inappropriate. According to John Santelli, the school clinics are located at schools in predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods, where students are sexually active at an unusually young age. Glazer concludes that 4 out of 5 states require or provide sex education classes in school, but fewer than 10% of teenagers receive necessary sex education program.

Lastly, she suggests that sex education programs are offered too late (Glazer 9-12). Although many sex education programs have failed in the past, one program with moderate success rates has been “Not Yet” designed by Brent Miller, which promotes abstinence as the best way to avoid pregnancy but also tells students how to use birth control if they do become sexually active. According to an evaluation in an article by Glazer that tracked 758 students for 18 months, the program has been successful in reducing the percentage of teenagers who initiated intercourse and in increasing the use of contraceptives among those who began sexual intercourse. However, adolescents have no interest in programs that teach abstinence unless they also include birth-control information. Mahad Ibrahim, a student at West Potomac High School, explains that if students hear only abstinence, they’re going to rebel against sex education classes altogether.

Teenagers do not want adults to tell them what to do; they want options. Therefore, administrators who only teach abstinence in sex education classes need to face reality. Overall, Glazer states that percentage of teenagers who will leave their teenage years having had intercourse is 80-90%. In conclusion, for a sex education class to impact students, administrators must face the reality that adolescents are more experienced in this millennium and programs must be altered (Glazer 14-18). The next step to prevent teenage pregnancy is to encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s lives. Parents are largely at fault for the increase rate of teenage pregnancy because many refuse to confront their children about sex and provide them with contraceptives (Glazer 16). According to Amie Hess, parents are significantly more likely to talk about sexual intercourse with females than males, which place more sexual responsibility on girls (Hess 19).

Parents must promote abstinence and encourage contraceptive use early in their child’s life. Inez Silva, who attends a high school in Washington, states, “Parents are scared to face the fact that their little girl is sexually active” (Glazer 16). The more parents avoid serious talks with their children about abstinence and safe sex, the more likely the children will become a teenage parent. Finally, a law that requires any teenage mother between 16 and 19 years of age to prove she has a steady income of at least $600 a month, in order to keep her child, is a crucial law which should be proposed, because within one year of the birth of a teenage mother’s first child, almost half of the mothers are on welfare (Glazer 2). Overall, teenage birth now costs the government more than $25 billion a year and includes food stamps, Medicaid, and welfare payments (Glazer 1). A simple law that requires teenage mothers to prove they are able to provide for their child is one way the government can save money.

Conclusion

Overall, teenage pregnancy is a severe problem in America. Specifically, teenage pregnancy is associated with lower educational and occupational attainment, an increase in mental and physical health problems, and increased risk of abuse and neglect for children born to teenage mothers (Woodward 801). To reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy in the U.S parents must become more involved with their children’s daily lives; sex education programs should be based on the particular schools location; contraceptives need to be simple to obtain and a law should be proposed that requires pregnant teenage women to financially provide and support their child. Possible solutions to prevent teenage pregnancy are ongoing. Just last Friday, Judge Edward R. Korman of the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York reversed a 2011 decision by the Health and Human Services to limit access to the “emergency contraceptive” to young women 17 or older (Starr 1). Korman’s ruling would allow girls of any age to purchase the drug over the counter (Starr 1). Solutions such as these will help prevent “1 million girls [from getting] pregnant each year” (Burnett 57). How can European countries have lower pregnancy rates but higher sexual activity than the U.S (Glazer 4)? This fact provides evidence that the right solutions will work in the reduction of teenage pregnancy in America.


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