Teenage pregnancy is a widespread problem that affects each and every one of us across the nation. While some may still believe this is a family matter, that is simply untrue. The negative effects of teenage pregnancy to society, the teenage mothers themselves, and their children, needs to be acknowledged and remedied in order to prevent this continuous cycle that destroys lives. As a nation we need to protect both our teens and their potential offspring by devising a realistic method of birth control that will allow young women to make age appropriate choices, learn, grow and mature before making the lifelong commitment that is parenthood.
The Problem – Facts on Teenage Pregnancy
Whether we like it or not, abstinence education has been proven to be an ineffective method of birth control and sexually transmitted disease prevention. As parents we may not want to think of our children, or any children for that matter, being sexually active, but the reality is that teens are having sex and as the adults we need to do our best to keep them safe. Burying our heads in the sand is not the answer.
- In 2015, 229, 715 babies were born to females aged 15-19.
- The United States still has one of the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates in the industrialized world.
Although there are varying rates of teen pregnancy amongst different racial and ethnic groups the most prevalent factor seems to be socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, the at-risk population of lower income, lower educated young women who are already disadvantaged are the most likely to become teen mothers.
Teenage pregnancy is often cyclical and many teen mothers were born to a teenager themselves making this cycle difficult to break. These at-risk, young women do not plan to get pregnant, but their lifestyle choices combined with their poor decision-making skills all lead to this unfortunate consequence.
- Young women living in foster care are 2x more likely to become pregnant than those not in care.
- These young women are also 2x more likely than other teens to become pregnant a 2nd time before turning 19.
- Pregnancy and birth are the leading factors in high school dropout rates amongst young women.
- Only 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22 as opposed to 90% of young women who do not become pregnant.
Unfortunately, those who suffer most from teenage pregnancies are the babies born to these young women. As parents ourselves, we all know just how difficult childrearing really is, however teen mothers who are nothing more than children themselves do not.
Oftentimes these young women become pregnant for all the wrong reasons – accidently, because she thinks it will keep the baby’s father in a relationship with her, or as it is with many of the teens in foster care the desire for a loving relationship which she mistakenly thinks a baby will provide.
- Children born to teenage mothers have lower school achievement and are more likely to drop out of high school.
- These children suffer from more health problems and are more likely to become a teen parent continuing the cycle.
- As teenagers, the children born to teen mothers are more likely to be incarcerated, face unemployment, and live in poverty themselves.
Sadly, the children born to teenage mothers are also much more likely to face abuse, abandonment, and neglect forcing them into the nation’s foster care system as well. These innocent babies are then relegated to an already overburdened and broken system where they will languish frequently suffering multiple traumas to include post-traumatic stress disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and various forms of depression to name a few.
As babies have little to no rights, the ability to establish permanency (a permanent home) for them is limited as the legal system protects the teen mothers right of parenthood first and foremost. A teenage mother cannot have her parental rights terminated until she reaches the age of majority (18). For the babies born to these teens that not only means years in foster placements without a stable home, it also significantly increases the likelihood that child will remain in foster care as few older children ever find long-term, loving, adoptive homes.
The Solution – Free, Effective, Incentivized Birth Control
The ability to family plan is truly a blessing in our overpopulated world. Although we all know and fear the thought of any sort of forced birth control or population control methods (with good reason) there is a simple solution available to the teenage pregnancy plague here and now. Devising a system for free, effective, and incentivized birth control available to all young women, but particularly those in the at-risk populations, would make a world of difference in the lives of those teens and their future offspring.
Although the U.S. Constitution gives everyone the right to reproduce, we are no longer living in a world where 14 year olds marry, give birth, and remain home to parent. This is a different day and age where women not only enter and frequently dominate the workplace, they need to be able to make smart and well-informed decisions for themselves. Becoming a teenage mother frequently inhibits that ability to the detriment of both the mother and child.
Offering free, effective birth control to young women in the at-risk populations would substantially decrease the financial burden teenage pregnancy places on our nation. Currently teen pregnancy costs the U.S. taxpayers approximately $9.4 billion dollars a year. This number accounts for increased health care costs, foster care, increased incarceration rates among children born to teen parents, and lost tax revenue due to the lower educational attainment and income of teen mothers.
Not accounted for is the long-term burden on our welfare system as these teen mothers grow up, continue living in poverty, and unfortunately raise children who end up in the same at-risk situation continuing the cycle. Further, free birth control prevents these young women from having to consider abortion or adoption, both of which have serious mental and emotional consequences.
Choosing an effective and long-term method of birth control such as an implant (Nexplanon) would not only prevent teen pregnancy with so many of its challenges, but it would give these at-risk young women a chance at life. It would give them the ability to make mistakes, to learn, to grow and to mature. Although some may argue there are risks associated with birth control, this implant would simply be an option given to young women, not something forced upon them. In all reality, there are more negative side effects possible from antibiotic use than birth control and yet that does not stop its widespread prescription.
If this form of birth control which prevents pregnancy for up to 4 years was offered to a young woman upon reaching puberty (approximately age 13-14), her chance of graduating high school increases significantly. With the attainment of a high school diploma also comes the increased ability to obtain a job or go to college. Further, if the young lady decided to have another implant inserted after the first 4 years, potentially around age 18, she would be more likely to graduate from college.
Incentivizing young women to use birth control would likely increase the chances they would make the decision to do so. It would also continue to cost much less than the alternative of teen pregnancy and birth. Whether these young girls were offered a monetary amount, a gift card, or a shopping trip for new school clothes, the determined amount would be well worth it when considering the positive results this could procure for their lives long-term, not to mention that of their future offspring.
Most young women do not plan to get pregnant, but as with all teenage decisions, they also tend to think they are invincible and that this will not happen to them. Many teenagers also cite weight gain, acne, or bloating as their reason for not taking birth control which the incentive is meant to counteract by making them at least stop and think about it. Although loftier reasons clearly exist for taking birth control, such as pregnancy prevention, high school graduation and career potential, in order to combat teen pregnancy and birth, one must address typical teenage concerns.
As adults we all know that pregnancy, birth, and child rearing are difficult, life-changing decisions, but teenagers do not have the age, wisdom, or experience to fully consider all factors involved. Teen parents are really no more than children themselves and it is our job as a society to protect them and give them the best opportunities in life. The ability to obtain free and effective birth control, and incentivizing it simply to get the young girls’ attention is a solution that can make a difference. So many of these at-risk young women have the potential to become contributing members of society, community leaders, and amazing mothers rather than a statistic if simply given the choice and the chance.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Research