Pregnancy can be a very exciting time for first-time parents. However, unintended pregnancy can come as a shock and bring about difficult decisions for both first-time and experienced parents alike. Getting pregnant as a teenager, during the ages of 13 to 19, can be an especially difficult experience. Not only are teens young and likely to be first-time parents (should they choose to carry a pregnancy to term), but also a majority of modern societies around the world are simply not “set-up” for teen or adolescent parents to thrive on a variety of societal levels.1
Of course, it is not inherently wrong to become a mother or father as an adolescent, during the ages of 10 to13, or as a teenager. In fact, our bodies are biologically prepared to conceive shortly after puberty for both males and females. This, however, does not guarantee that young people who become pregnant are cognitively, emotionally, or financially prepared for parenthood, especially in societies that restrict young people from a variety of social institutions and from achieving adult status over a span of many years. In the United States, for example, the time from which a young woman experiences her first menstrual period — indicating her biological “readiness” for motherhood — and the time when she has reached full adult status spans about 10 years. Many privileges and rights that come with growing up such as having a driver's license, something some parents find extremely useful, is only obtainable to those who are 16 years of age. Being a teenager also narrows the list of job opportunities which can ultimately limit one’s ability to financially provide for a child.2
About 6% of all birth cases in the United States are attributed to teen mothers. Of these teen pregnancies, 77% are unplanned. The outcomes of each teen pregnancy end accordingly: 60% by live births, 15% by miscarriage, and 30% by abortion. In 2014 the United States’ rate of abortions among adolescents was the lowest since abortion was legalized in 1973, and 66% lower than its peak in 1988. However, there is also a rapid decline in teen pregnancy. Between 1990 to 2010 there was a 51% decrease in teen pregnancies, from 116.9 to 57.4 teen pregnancies per 1,000 teen females. Researchers believe that the rapid decline in teen pregnancy is due to an older age of first intercourse amongst the new generations and an increase in contraceptive use. Although the teen birth rate in the United States is at an all-time low, it is still the highest among all of the industrialized nations in the world today.1
Factors to Consider
Essentially, there are three options that parents can consider upon discovering a pregnancy, whether it is intended or not. A female ultimately has the right to choose between parenthood (or co-parenthood with the child’s father and/or a family member), adoption, or abortion. However, in most cases, it is extremely beneficial for her to discuss these options with the partner with whom she has become pregnant. The decision will likely be influenced by both partners’ moral values, religious affiliation, level of education, level of support from family and friends, and partner (the sexual partner with whom the pregnancy occurred, or whichever partner the parent has who will support them throughout the pregnancy and/or birth of the child), among other personal factors. Choosing to become a parent is a life-changing decision, and all potential parents should consider how the following aspects will affect both the parent’s and child’s future. 3
- Support: Raising a child is a demanding, full-time job; one should consider whether or not they will have social, emotional, and financial support (if needed) from their partner, family members, and close friends.
- Finances: Raising a child is costly, and opportunities for employment become limited with pregnancy and parenthood due to the costs of childcare and inflexible work hours, among many other child-related expenses and obligations.2
- Education: A teen who becomes pregnant has likely not yet completed secondary schooling (achieved a high school diploma or equivalent), and it is very difficult to make the decision to drop out of school and potentially return at a later time. In fact, “only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by the age of 22,” according to the CDC.1
- Goals: Because parenting is extremely expensive and a full-time job, many teen parents find that their goals, such as receiving a higher education or establishing a particular career, must be put on hold. Sometimes these goals never get accomplished at all. This causes many young parents to feel “stuck” later in life with a job that they feel is less than optimal or “trapped” in a relationship with a partner who they feel does not meet their intimate and personal needs.
- Lifestyle: Parenting requires many lifestyle adjustments to ensure the wellbeing of the child. Oftentimes, parents must adjust their schedules to work around those of their children in order to put the children’s needs first. Discovering you are pregnant as a teen and deciding to become a parent often requires a quick transition into adulthood that many youth do not feel prepared for. This may lead to feelings of inadequacy, failure, and stress, or the feeling that one has missed out on the last or most significant years of their own childhood.3
- The Child’s Future: According to the CDC, children of teen mothers are more likely to suffer a slew of difficulties at much higher rates than those of their peers (peers whose parents did not give birth when they were teens). They are more likely to have lower school achievement, drop out of high school, have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, face unemployment as a young adult, and become teen parents themselves. These risks are closely linked to young parents also having few personal financial resources.2
Parenthood can be a rewarding experience that comes with many important responsibilities. Usually, a major lifestyle change occurs when two people decide to become parents, especially as teens. The quality of future lives for the parents and child should be considered when deciding on whether or not to raise a child.
If one does not feel ready to become a parent on any level (socially, emotionally, financially, or otherwise), adoption is one option that can benefit the pregnant couple, the developing child, and those who desperately wish to be parents but who cannot conceive on their own. About 5% of teen mothers give their children up for adoption, and the demand for adoptable children in the United States is growing. Children of adopted parents are certainly wanted, and arrangements can be made in several ways for two types of adoption: open, and closed.4 Open adoption allows for contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents and sometimes for regular or intermittent contact throughout the child’s life. Closed adoption is confidential and no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents is allowed. With both options, parents should consider the responsibility and emotional toll that their involvement has on the child’s life when choosing a type of adoption. The decision to have an open or closed adoption could also be affected by the type of arrangement.5
Arrangement of Adoption
- Adoption agency: Parents relinquish the baby to an agency licensed by the government. This type of adoption is typically closed and handled entirely by the agency.
- Independent adoption: In this type of adoption, the birth parents typically select the adoptive parents and the adoption remains open. A physician or lawyer typically arranges this type of adoption.
- Adoption by relatives: This type of adoption allows for the child to remain in the same family as the birth parent(s) so that the biological mother and/or father may still have contact with the child. Sometimes young parents choose this type of adoption temporarily to get their resources together and mature a bit before they take on the primary responsibility of raising their child. This type of adoption still requires court approval.3
Prenatal care is still important and necessary when giving a baby up for adoption. Taking good care of oneself and the developing child is essential to birthing a healthy baby. Oftentimes, it is also very important to the adoptive parents that the expecting mother is in good health to ensure that the baby is born without complications. For more information, please visit our article on “Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy.”
Abortion is legal in the United States; however, states vary widely in the availability of abortion clinics and abortion-certified and practicing physicians. Depending on the time they take place, abortions can be performed either surgically or medically. Currently, surgical abortions are more common. It is safest and easiest to have an abortion performed in the earliest weeks of pregnancy (until about 12 weeks) by a trained doctor or practitioner in sanitary conditions.
Some people are concerned with the psychological health and emotional well-being of a female after an abortion is performed. However, there is little evidence to support the claim that females are negatively affected by the experience, especially in the long-term. Reactions will vary among people who receive abortions and will be affected by factors such as religiosity, social support, and the support of a partner.3
Keeping the Baby
If either parent chooses to keep the baby, there are many responsibilities that come with undergoing a full term pregnancy and raising a child. It is important that the mother regularly consults her doctor to ensure that she is maintaining both the baby’s and her own health.
A full term pregnancy lasts approximately 9 months and can be mentally and physically demanding. Changes in the mother’s hormones and body during each trimester of pregnancy are explained in our article “Pregnancy by Trimester.” Prenatal care, as mentioned before, is important to ensure the baby is born with minimal complication.
Raising a child is extremely time consuming. In order to provide a child with the proper necessities for a well-balanced lifestyle, a parent will have to dedicate a lot of his or her own time in order to care for the child. If both parents are involved, the time and support it takes to raise a child may be divided amongst each parent. 3
Ensuring the child is given a well balanced life that may include a healthy diet, sufficient attention, education, extracurricular activities, proper clothing, shelter, and mental stability until they reach adulthood is a large but rewarding responsibility. Raising a child can be appreciated and accepted by many as one of their greatest accomplishments. Having a child to love and care for, who one day will return the love and care, can be fulfilling and gratifying if the responsibilities are maintained.7
Options for Pregnant Teens: For Her
The responsibility that comes with pregnancy, although it takes both a male and female to become pregnant, often falls largely on the female since it is her body that carries the child. This responsibility comes with the female having the final decision on the pregnancy option, and it may be overwhelming for some pregnant teens. It is important that the pregnant female takes the factors listed above into consideration before making her decision to either give the baby up for adoption, have an abortion, or keep the baby. Although the female has the ultimate decision, it is also important that she discuss these options with her partner and take their opinions and ideas about the pregnancy into consideration. This partner communication may create a foundation for partner support during the decision process. It will also allow the female to make a decision that will best benefit the child’s and her own future, as she will better understand her partner’s role in their lives. 7
If the female has minimal support from her partner or her family after making her final decision, it is important to know that there are other sources of support including doctors, counselors, and friends. A doctor may recommend support groups that include other pregnant teens who share a similar experience. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Teen Outreach offer various programs and classes for pregnant teens that provide support and education on pregnancy. Getting involved in a community with people who have similar values and standards may establish a sense of openness and comfort in what some may feel is an isolated circumstance. It is important to remember that many people are eager and willing to help and support pregnant teens.7
Options for Pregnant Teens: For Him
Becoming a father for the first time can also be a very exciting experience. However, not feeling prepared for the responsibility of raising a child can be very stressful. First-time fathers and experienced fathers who discover that their female partner has become pregnant unexpectedly are often caught in a difficult position. Especially for young fathers or teens, decisions could potentially be made that are out of their control. It is very important to realize that the female partner has not become pregnant alone. Although she may be the one who physically carries the developing baby, she will need lots of emotional support throughout the decision-making process. The father is absolutely entitled to his opinion and values regarding the pregnancy, and these should be expressed to his partner in a caring and considerate way.
Should the potential mother choose an option of parenthood, adoption, or abortion that is unfavorable to the father, it is important to carefully consider why this option may be best for her and that her decision was likely made after much consideration. Of course, it will be extremely beneficial for the father to discuss with his partner her reasoning and express his own thoughts about her decision, but ultimately she will likely need and desire his support. Also, be aware that if the mother chooses to raise the child and the father does not, the father or partner is required by law to contribute financially to the child’s needs until they are an adult (18 years of age).6
If a male’s partner chooses to raise the child and the male partner himself decides to co-parent with the child’s mother, it will be important for them to have good communication skills. Both partners must be honest with one another about their intentions to remain a couple or a family throughout the entirety of the relationship, and whether they are interested in an intimate relationship or strictly a co-parenting relationship.6
Options for Pregnant Teens: For Them
Oftentimes, young couples that become pregnant together try to stay together for the sake of the new baby. If the couple is happy in their relationship and decides to stay together, it is important that they actively communicate their choices and ideas regarding the pregnancy whether they decide to give the child up for adoption, terminate the pregnancy, or keep the child. If the couple remains happy and intimate throughout any of the pregnancy options, there will likely be an increased sense of support and understanding between them. If they choose to keep the child the parents may want to consider living together in order to provide the child with a stable home and close family. Marriage may help the couple solidify their bond and financially stabilize their future family. It is important that the couple is ready to take on the responsibilities of a child together through co-parenting if they choose to do so. 4
However, if a relationship was turbulent before the birth of the baby, it is unlikely that the baby will “fix” whatever issues were present prior to its birth. It is unfair to expect the new baby to do this. It is more likely that a baby who grows up between two homes with parents who are happy and healthy (possibly with new partners) will learn what a happy, healthy, loving relationship looks like and be able to eventually create one for themself. It is important to model good communication and make choices pertaining to the child’s life together with co-parenting. The alternative style of growing up (in a household with two parents who appear to be angry or resent one another consistently) will not leave the child better off. Oftentimes in this situation, this maladaptive relationship pattern is likely to continue for the child without better models of effective communication and loving relationships.4
When choosing to become parents at all, or to wait until a later time, it is important that each partner is comfortable with their decision and to support and recognize each other’s feelings throughout the decision-making process.
Avoiding Unwanted Pregnancy
Nearly all teen pregnancies are unplanned. Teen pregnancy is largely due to a lack of sex education and access to contraceptives. The United States does not mandate sex education in schools but sex education including topics on how to have safe sex, contraceptives, love, and relationships can be easily accessed online.1
There are many different forms of pregnancy prevention including condoms, birth control pills, abstinence and many other methods that can be found here! Contraceptives such as condoms, which also protect against sexually transmitted infections, can be found at most drug stores, pharmacies, or online. Consulting your doctor about birth control and pregnancy prevention is the best way to find a contraceptive that is best suitable to you. If parental concern is a problem in accessing birth control or medical advice on sexual health, Planned Parenthood offers doctor consultations regarding pregnancy and provisions of contraceptives such as the birth control pill, while maintaining patient confidentiality specifically for teens. Some websites, including Planned Parenthood, have some contraceptive pills available to order online.3
If you are concerned about being pregnant, taking a pregnancy test is a great way to determine whether or not the pregnancy options are worth considering and the best way to ease the worries of having an unwanted pregnancy. They can also be found at most drug stores or pharmacies.3
Becoming pregnant as a teenager can be an overwhelming experience and there are many things to consider. The decision to become a parent, offer the child up for adoption, or have an abortion will greatly affect the lives of the pregnant teen and their partner. It is important to assess the life of each partner and the life that they could provide for the child before making a decision. Emotional, physical and financial support are crucial for both parents and child regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy.
- "The Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services." Office of Adolescent Health. N.p., Web. 15 Nov. 2016. Last Updated: 02 June 2016.
- "About Teen Pregnancy." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web. 15 Nov. 2016. Last Updated: 26 Apr. 2016.
- Parenthood, Planned. "I'm Pregnant, Now What? | Pregnancy Options For Teens." I'm Pregnant, Now What? | Pregnancy Options For Teens. N.p., Web. 15 Nov. 2016. Last Updated: 29 July 2016.
- Brown, Nancy. "Pregnancy Options." Pregnancy Options | Sexual Health & Pregnancy Issues for Teens. N.p., Web. 15 Nov. 2016. Last Updated: Oct. 2013.
- "Teen Pregnancy Options – Teen Help." Teen Help. N.p., Web. 15 Nov. 2016. Last Updated: 05 Jan. 2016.
- Tarkow, Allison K. H. “The Characteristics and Circumstances of Teen Fathers”.N.p., Web. 15 Nov. 2016. Last Updated: June 2012.
- Wessling, Susan. "Tips for Teen Mothers." LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 16 May 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
Last Updated 29 November 2016.