By James N. Martin, Jr, MD
President, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Teen pregnancy impacts hundreds of thousands of families in the US each year. The good news: teen births have fallen to an all-time low. The bad news: more than 2,000 teens still get pregnant each day. The US has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed nation—overall, three in 10 women will become pregnant before age 20.
Nearly half (45.9%) of high school girls have had sex at least once, putting them at risk of pregnancy. A sexually active teen that is not using contraception has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within a year. Emphasizing the benefits of waiting to have children is the focus of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in May.
Teens may not readily recognize the long-term costs of early sex and parenthood. One-third of teen pregnancies end in abortion. Of those who decide to carry a pregnancy to term, few teens choose adoption—90% raise the child themselves. Adolescent moms are significantly less likely to receive their high-school diploma than those who wait to have children. They are more likely to live in poverty, receive public assistance, and have long periods of welfare dependency.
When compared to women who delay having children until their early 20s, teen mothers are much more likely to remain unmarried and raise their children without a partner. Teen fathers are also less likely to finish high school and are more likely to have lower paying jobs than their peers who have children later.
Children of teen parents are also affected. Pregnant teens often experience pregnancy complications due to the lack of prenatal care. Teen moms may not be getting the proper nutrition and may use alcohol, drugs, and other substances that are harmful to a fetus. Nearly 10% of babies born to teen mothers are low birth weight. Later in life, the daughters of teen mothers are at high risk of having children in their adolescent years, and their sons have a higher chance of being incarcerated than the sons of older mothers.
As parents and adults, we should continue to encourage behaviors that have contributed to the drop in teenage pregnancy rates. These include abstinence or the delaying the start of sexual activity and consistent use of condoms and hormonal contraceptives among teens who are having sex. Studies have also shown that parents can be very influential in discouraging teens from early sex and pregnancy. Parents who clearly convey their own values toward sex, relationships, contraception, and pregnancy can have a huge impact on how their teens respond to sexual situations.
Find more information on teen sexuality and pregnancy at www.thenationalcampaign.org. ?
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