Candice Hannani and Max Stahl
(As seen in the print edition)
A high school girl takes a deep breath as she navigates a sea of curious and judgmental eyes in the hallway. She carries many teen-related insecurities: those pertaining to her acne, her frizzy hair, her giant-sized braces. But those insecurities are very small in comparison to her current situation. When students stare at her, they aren’t paying attention to those kinds of details; they are looking down at her bulging belly that can only grow bigger. The girl’s vision blurs as she swipes away a tear, filled with uncertainty and anxiety about her and her baby’s future.
Teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. have been in decline since the 1980s, but they remain the highest in the industrialized world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 329,797 babies were born to mothers age 15-19 in 2011, an 8 percent drop from the 2010 rate. Still, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is currently twice Canada’s, four times Germany and France’s, and eight times Japan’s.
The CDC warns that children of teen mothers are more likely to struggle in school, drop out of school, suffer from health problems (e.g. low birth weight, blindness, deafness, mental retardation and cerebral palsy), become incarcerated and become unemployed as young adults. Daughters of teen mothers are also 22 percent more likely than daughters of adult mothers to become teen mothers themselves.
“Teen pregnancy takes away a teen’s sense of youth and freedom, propels them into an adult world before they are ready, interferes with their ability to attend high school and have a ‘normal’ social life and changes a teen’s future plans after high school,” school psychologist Gene Michelman said.
However, a Beverly student, who chose to remain anonymous, has experienced teen motherhood and believes there is both a positive and negative side to being a teen mother.
“At first I was so happy to know that I was having a baby. It was an amazing feeling to hear my baby’s heartbeat,” she said. “But then I started thinking about the hard stuff: diapers and daycare, none of which is cheap.”
School support can also have a large impact on a pregnant teen’s academic success, according to The Huffington Post. In 2008, California legislators cut a successful program that gave such students more aid in school, claiming that it was no longer necessary, and left school districts to use the money for other programs. Despite the ruling, Beverly provides pregnant teens with a relatively large amount of support and understanding. According to Intervention Counselor Ali Norman-Franks, the Norman Aid Student Support Center offers confidential counseling and can help pregnant students to see their options. If a student decides to proceed with the pregnancy, the center would connect the student with the school nurse and programs like Planned Parenthood and Los Angeles Services, both of which offer education, counseling and financial aid.
“Because the pregnant teen’s health is crucial and their parents’ support may be needed, we would encourage them to tell their parents. If the student needed support with telling their parents that they are pregnant, we could set up a meeting with them and their parents and help them share this sensitive information,” Norman-Franks said.
She also claimed that, if a student was comfortable with informing teachers about her situation, the Norman Aid Center could help establish an educational plan to help the student graduate. The anonymous teen mother claimed that Beverly provided her with immense support during her pregnancy.
“The school was really understanding [about my pregnancy] as long as I had a doctor’s note for all appointments,” the anonymous student claimed. “I know it was hard for teachers to bend the rules because I know they didn’t want other students getting upset that I was getting special privileges because of my pregnancy. Still, the school was amazingly supportive with my pregnancy and I know they appreciated the fact that I didn’t use my pregnancy to get out of schoolwork or classes.”
According to the CDC, fighting teen pregnancy is a “winnable battle.” The most effective way to prevent teen pregnancy is abstinence. All methods of birth control, California Rural Indian Health Board (CRIHB) claims, are capable of failure.
CRIHB also reports that more U.S. teens are using contraception the first time they have sex, but are less likely than in past years to continue using contraception later on. Couples that do not use birth control during intercourse have an 85 percent chance of pregnancy within the first year.
Michelman recommends abstinence to high school students as the best means of preventing teen pregnancy. She also urges teens to talk to trusted adults about sex and the dating process.
“Both parents and teachers play a role in educating youth about teen pregnancy; it is important to be able to have open communication between teens and their caregivers. Schools can provide an objective perspective on the issues surrounding teen pregnancy,” Michelman said.