School Programs to Address Teen Pregnancy Issues
This article presents information about the difficulties associated with teenage pregnancy, followed by an overview of school based preventative programs and programs for pregnant teens and teen parents. Also, information is provided on both generalized services that pertain to teen parenting programs as a whole, as well as specialized services that are specific to particular programs. Finally, a comprehensive teen program called the Caring Equation is profiled, as well as feedback from recipients who had been enrolled in the Paquin School for pregnant and/or teen parents.
Keywords: Keywords; Abstinence-only Sex Education; "Baby Think It Over"; Comprehensive Sex Education; Learning, Earning And Parenting (LEAP); Least Restrictive Environment; Teen Pregnancy
Teenage parenthood is a predicament that bears grave setbacks (Scholl, 2007), both on individual and large-scale levels. This hardship is particularly true for young females who assume the brunt of the responsibilities that accompany such a lifestyle, oftentimes without a partner (Wiseman, et al., 2006). When a teenage girl discovers that she is expecting, her interpersonal relationships run the risk of becoming ruthlessly stunted. Family members are disappointed and worry how the new addition will affect the household dynamics. Friends, perhaps even the father of the child, distance themselves from the situation, finding that divergent developmental milestones lodge a wedge between the two sets of lifestyles and priorities. In addition, the teenage mom's educational and career-related options become severely limited; the demands of single parenthood are taxing in themselves and integrating an added layer of responsibility, such as school, becomes too much to juggle. Thus, high school dropout rates (Eloundou-Enyegue, 2004), the impossibility of attending college, and ensuing low-wage or nonexistent jobs become the norm for teen mothers.
Society as a whole is affected, based on the fact that teenage parents have restricted occupational contributions and a corresponding reliance on public assistance (Sangalang, 2006). Moreover, a teenaged, single parent with limited resources leads a brutal existence filled with disappointment, destitution, and limited social networks, and is therefore more disposed toward becoming abusive and/or neglectful (Afifi, 2007). The neglect often begins in utero, when pregnancies are concealed or ignored and prenatal care is not properly followed, resulting in babies with pervasively low-birth weights (Banerjee, et al., 2009). An unfortunate cyclical pattern can be demonstrated by the high rate of teen parents who have children in the foster care system, and the fact that a large proportion of foster care children eventually become teen parents themselves (Bilchik & Wilson-Simmons, 2010; Pilnik & Austen, 2009; Stotland & Godsoe, 2006). Entering into adulthood is less than seamless for many of these children, who frequently encounter more legal entanglements and higher imprisonment rates. As such, adolescent parenthood is a tremendous economic burden. According to Brown (2010),
…teen childbearing in the United States cost taxpayers (federal, state and local) at least $9.1 billion. The estimated cumulative public costs of teen childbearing between 1991 and 2001 (the most recent data available) total $161 billion (p. 13).
In examining the statistics throughout the last several decades, a perplexing trend regarding teenage parenting can be observed. On a positive note, significant strides to overcome teen pregnancy were established during the 1990s and early part of the 2000s which are documented through the following data: 103.6 teen pregnancies/1000 in 1990 compared with 66.2 teen pregnancies/1000 in 2002 (McKay, 2006), and a 41% plummet in teen pregnancy between 1990-2005 (Study, 2010). However, in 2006 this steady decline came to an abrupt stop as teen pregnancy rates spiked by 3%, stumping social scientists and policy makers. Naturally, scholars have sought to make sense of the recent 2006 glitch that followed an otherwise longstanding series of waning pregnancy percentages, and in the process some preliminary speculations to describe this phenomenon have been proposed. For example, Gulli, et al. (2008) focused on media influences that may have descended upon vulnerable youngsters, ranging from 2007's blockbuster movie Juno that featured the plight of a cool, young pregnant girl to the bevy of real-life young Hollywood stars whose pregnancies have been sensationalized, including that of Britney Spears's 16-year-old sister Jamie-Lynn.
Gulli also points out that today's postmodern families have yielded new structures that deviate from the 1950s version of cookie-cutter conventionality, and a wide range of ages-both young and old-at which women conceive is more tolerated than in previous generations. Also, peer pressure on a smaller scale cannot be ignored, and in 2008 Gloucester High School in Massachusetts endured scrutiny when an unprecedented 17 students became pregnant in the course of one school year, spawning rumors that a "pregnancy pact" had been activated (Gibbons, 2008). Throughout the decades, researchers have theorized about the multifaceted etiological factors that play a part in teenage pregnancy, which include the following:
- Sexually active youth (Burns, 2008);
- Nonexistent or inaccurate use of contraceptives (Corcoran, Franklin, & Bell, 1997); and
- A proactive desire to become pregnant.
The last reason correlates with the emulation of fellow teen parents (i.e., family or friends) who serve as role models (Raneri & Constance, 2007), the desire to fill an emotional gap that can presumably be satisfied by the unconditional love that accompanies parenthood (Daniel, 2009), or as an extension of romantic love and longing to start a family with the baby and the baby's father.
School-based Prevention Programs
The public school system is an obvious source to initiate teen-pregnancy prevention strategies. A standard measure that is generally afforded the majority of the student body in each school district is sex education, which usually occurs in tandem with a Health program. Enduring controversy about the nature of sex education plagues the direction that the curriculum is able to take, and it is ultimately imbedded in political discord (Surgan, 2004). The main point of contention exists between abstinence-only sex education (Carroll, 2009) and comprehensive sex education (Braeken & Cardinal, 2008; Quillen, 2009). The abstinence-only stance is rooted in conservative ideals, condemns premarital sex, and asserts that families should be responsible for disseminating information on private matters. Some believe that when school personnel broach sexual matters, they pique the interest of hormonally-driven teens and essentially encourage the consummation of sexual acts.
Comprehensive sex education, on the other hand, presents material on safe-sex, birth control and abstinence-only options and argues that it is naïve to solely focus on an abstinence-only approach, which has proven to be amiss given the prevalence of sexually active teens who have become pregnant and/or contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Likewise, teenagers cite discomfort about striking up birds-and-bees conversations with their parents, which is a topic that parents also find difficult to approach. Hence, although some argue that sex-related conversations are a family affair, the more pertinent question is whether or not families are tackling the matter at all.
In addition to sex education, individualized prevention programs also exist to help discourage teen pregnancy among both at-risk youth and mainstream students. Vincent and Dod (1989) reviewed the triumphs of a prevention program titled, "The School/Community Program for Sexual Risk Reduction Among Teens," which was launched in 1983 in a South Carolina county. The program displayed long-range success that was evidenced through the marked reduction in regional teenage pregnancies for the following three years by comprehensively addressing all areas of the participants' lives, facilitated by a full-time health educator. Parents, religious leaders, teachers and school officials all corroborated the program's mission and participated accordingly. For example, teachers agreed to further expand their graduate studies by undertaking three classes that pertained to sex education and family studies, and they implemented their newly acquired material into weekly lesson plans. Family members and religious representatives agreed to attend five informational sessions that helped guide subsequent interactions with the teenagers. Indeed, it is commendable that efforts were taken to extend services so expansively, especially since most programs can only afford to cover only one compartment of the students' lives. Not only was there full-fledged cooperation by residents in the school and community alike, but the program had the ability to invest a substantial amount of time into the project; results were not instantaneous and affirmative findings did not surface until it had been underway for 1.5 years.
"Baby Think it Over"
Another preventative measure that many school systems adopt is the "Baby Think it Over" (BTIO) curriculum (Out & Lafreniere, 2001; Price & Robinson, 2000), often managed by teachers in designated classes, such as Health or Home Economics. The BTIO assignment comes with a baby doll that has a battery-operated, computerized chip that is internally lodged inside its back that randomly causes it to cry without provocation. The task of the student, therefore, is to tend to the needs of the baby in a timely manner by inserting a care plug into the mechanized device upon hearing the baby's distressed sobs. Delayed responses result in point deductions. The mission behind the BTIO project is to take adolescent parenthood off its pedestal by focusing on the reality of demands that come with teen motherhood and fatherhood. The arbitrary demands of the BTIO doll help convey the fact that total investment is mandated from parents, even during the most inopportune times- such as when the doll shrieks at 3:00 in the morning or during a soccer tournament and needs to be cared for by an inconvenienced adolescent. If, for example, the teenager wants to go for a walk, she needs to tote the BTIO doll along in a carriage in the event that it cries. In this type of scenario, students report feeling shamed from bystanders who pass judgment about their "teen parenthood" status; this stigmatization also serves as a pregnancy deterrent. The simulated BTIO role-play activity yields powerful results at curbing students' romanticized perspectives of the responsibilities associated with parenthood (Barnett & Hurst, 2004; de Anda, 2006; Didion & Gatzke, 2004), which makes it a popular middle and high school preventative program.
Programs for Pregnant Teens
Teenage parents pose an academic threat to themselves based on the fact that their newfound responsibilities suspend the amount of energy they are able to extend toward their lessons, which usually causes them to drop out of school altogether (Hanson, 1992). While this phenomenon inevitably afflicts pregnant teens once they become parents, they are able to temporarily delude themselves with far-reaching ambitions before their parenting responsibilities officially commence. In a study conducted by McCullough & Scherman (1991), 50% of the pregnant teens polled indicated a desire to attend college eventually, although upon the birth of their first child 51% of teen parents did not return to school in pursuit of their high school diplomas. Until they are in the actual experience, it is difficult for adolescents to hypothetically comprehend the complexities of teen parenthood such as transportation, care giving, and financial constraints. Because of this, many national, state-wide, community, and school-based initiatives are set in place to rectify the deleterious effects that are sprung upon young teenage parents, which eventually trickle into the lives of their innocent children and society as a whole.
Smith (1982) delineated an ideal needs-based school curriculum that suits the requirements of teenage mothers, which is comprised of the following elements:
- General education,
- Vocational/career education,
- Parenthood education,
- Health and social services, and
- Infant daycare.
General education is a necessity because it keeps teen mothers on a level playing field with their peers in terms of both knowledge base and citizenship skills, while vocational/career education instills practical expertise that will abridge their entrance into the job market following high school. Parenthood education is indispensible because (as the pithy saying declares) "parenting does not come with a handbook," and...
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