Teenage Pregnancy: A Possible Solution?

Mary Jurmain, M.S. and Judy Loughlin

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"Janine was 15 years old when she became sexually active with her boyfriend Paul. Soon afterward, they began to fight a lot and Janine felt she was losing him. Janine thought if she got pregnant she would be able to repair their failing relationship. She had always loved babies and had been employed as a babysitter for the last few years. She moved out of her parents house, applied for welfare and she never finished school."

Many parents are concerned over what has become a common teenage phenomenon: pregnancy. The statistics are frightening. A according to the National Center for Health Statistics:

the rate of births to unmarried teenagers has increased almost 200 percent since 1960

one in four young women gets pregnant by age 18

half have a pregnancy by 21.

Teenagers are getting pregnant for a variety of reasons. Some want the attention that a baby will bring to them--from friends, parents, and boyfriends, as well as from the baby itself. For others, pregnancy is an accident or is caused by lack of knowledge about birth control.

Even so, sex education in schools doesn't seem to be helping teens' awareness about pregnancy. Dr. James Stout reviewed sex education studies in *Pediatrics* and conluded that comprehensive/contraceptive sex education had little impact on teen sexual activity.

Not only has teen pregnancy been on the rise, but studies show that: Approximately 80% of all teenage parents who drop out of school never return. Teenage mothers have half the lifetime earnings of women who postpone having children until age 20. Teen mothers are high in developing complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Many problems result from poor or no prenatal care. Babies born to teen mothers are at high risk of being too small. Low birth weight is associated with increased infant mortality, illness, and handicappingconditions.

Approximately $7,631 is spent in welfare benefits for each teen mother and first child annually (excluding costs of complications). A study by Johns Hopkins University contends that neither fear of unwanted pregnancy nor contraceptive education have any appreciable effect on the risk of premarital pregnancy among teenagers. So what can we do to teach our children about the risks and show them that parenting is more of a responsibility than they may imagine?

Baby Think It Over, the "infant simulator," is the newest weapon in the war against teen pregnancy. Designed to look, sound, and act as much like a real infant as possible, the doll gives teenagers a hands-on dose of reality and causes many of them to rethink the challenges of parenthood.

Rather than telling teens about the difficulty of unwed teen parenthood, Baby Think It Over allows them to experience it for themselves. The doll contains an internal computer that cries loudly and unpredictably at intervals around the clock. The teen "parent" wears a feeding plug strapped to his or her wrist with a tamper-proof armband, so only the parent can "feed" or "comfort" the baby. Instructors can tell by a light on the back of the doll if it has been neglected or abused by the teen.

Although the product is only a few months old, schools, clinics, hospitals, and social agencies in forty-nine states are already using Baby Think It Over. Typically, teens returning the doll at the end of the simulation period express dismay at how difficult caring for a baby must be. One teen vowed to wait "at least ten years!" The Director of Planned Parenthood of Northwest Ohio, an agency that has been using the doll for 3 months, called the results "astonishing." You can call 1-800 830-1416 to see where dolls are being used in your area.

Investigate classes or support groups in your area that deal with teen sexuality or pregnancy. If none exist, ask your school to get involved and hold a special seminar for those who are interested; the life studies/family teacher may be helpful.

Take your child with you to visit friends of yours who are new parents. Once they see the lack of sleep, hear the frequency of the baby crying, and know how much committment and responsibility it takes, they may be more aware.

Check out a video at your local library and watch it with your children. Answer any questions they may have.

The more kids know about parenting, the more likely they are to be responsible when they do have children--and perhaps, the more likely they will be to postpone parenting until they can handle it.


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