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Running head: PREVENTION OF TEEN PREGNANCY

Risk and Mitigating Factors for Teenage Pregnancy: Ideas for Prevention
Lizbeth Ramirez
California State University, Chico

PREVENTION OF TEEN PREGNANCY

Risk and Mitigating Factors for Teenage Pregnancy: Ideas for Prevention
Teenage pregnancy is a relevant issue in our society given that despite a recent decline in
the number of teens who become pregnant, the United States continues to have the highest teen
pregnancy rate amongst industrialized countries (Sedgh, Finer, Bankole, Eilers & Singh, 2014).
This is problematic to all members of society as teen pregnancy has been estimated to cost about
$4,080 in taxes per adolescent under the age of 17 (Minnick & Shandler, 2011). Furthermore,
teenage pregnancy has led to an increased need for social services such as welfare and Medicaid
payments, incarcerations and foster care. In 2008 this increased need was estimated to cost the
United States $10.9 billion (Azar, 2012). Teen pregnancy is also problematic as it perpetuates a
cycle of poverty, teen parenting and poor health. Teen parents are less likely than adult parents to
be aware of the importance of proper nutrition, good prenatal care and bonding with their baby
(McCracken & Loveless, 2014).
There are many risk factors that increase the likelihood of a teenage girl becoming
pregnant such as a history of abuse (Madigan, Wade, Tarabulsy Jenkins & Shouldice, 2014),
originating from a low socioeconomic status family (Little, Henderson, Pedersen & Stonecipher,
2010), having a family member who is incarcerated (Whalen & Loper, 2014) and a lack of
connectedness between adolescent and parent (Miller, Benson & Galbraith, 2001). There are
however, some factors that may help decrease the probability of an at-risk teenager becoming
pregnant. Some mitigating factors include closeness between an adolescent and her parents
(Miller et al., 2001), comprehensive sex and reproductive health education (Silk & Romero,
2014) as well as access to birth control and other reproductive health services (Azar, 2012).
The purpose of this literature review is to inform the reader about the negative
consequences of teen pregnancy, risk factors and moderating factors. A discussion of existing

PREVENTION OF TEEN PREGNANCY

interventions and their effectiveness as well as ideas for new interventions will conclude this
review. The high rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S should be a reason for concern given it is a
costly problem. Aside from its economic costs, teen pregnancy leads to various social costs.
Teen pregnancy is not only costly because teenagers are unlikely to have the financial
means to support a child but also because they lack the knowledge necessary to ensure proper
prenatal care and their children are more likely to be born prematurely, to have poor academic
outcomes and to become teen parents when they themselves reach adolescence (Honig, 2012).
Adolescents are at a stage in their lives in which they are egocentric and in the midst of
developing their identity thus making it difficult for teen mothers to dedicate the time necessary
for bonding with their baby (Honig, 2012). When compared to older mothers, teen mothers are
also less likely to breastfeed their babies further decreasing the number of opportunities for
bonding which makes the development of a secure attachment unlikely (McCracken & Loveless,
2014).
Aside from the lack of maturity present in teenage girls that can make parenting less
successful for them, teen moms are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to
attend college (Basch, 2011). This promotes a cycle of poverty as teenage mothers are unlikely to
have well-paying jobs due to their lack of education (Basch, 2011). A lack of education can also
lead to an inability to help their children with school work which may be the reason for lower
reading and math scores as well as poor social and language skills amongst children teen parents
(Helfrich & McWey, 2013). These negative outcomes for both teen moms and their children are
reasons for concern as they are costly to society.
In order to reduce the pregnancy rate in the U.S, it is important to examine factors that
increase the risk of a teen becoming pregnant. With a better understanding of these factors, one

PREVENTION OF TEEN PREGNANCY

may be able to develop informed interventions that will decrease the likelihood of teen
pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are various risk factors for teen pregnancy including having an
incarcerated family member (Whalen & Loper, 2014), a history of sexual abuse (Madigan et al.,
2014), exposure to abstinence-only education (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011) and exposure to media
containing sexual messages (Noone et al., 2014).
Researchers have found that girls who had an incarcerated member of their household
were more likely to become pregnant. This may be related to other risk factors that have been
found to be correlated with the incarceration of a household member. For instance, girls with an
incarcerated household member were more likely to come from an economically disadvantaged
family and be of Hispanic origin (Whalen & Loper, 2014). These girls were also found to have
less interactions with their parents and more conflict at home (Whalen & Loper, 2014). Madigan
et al., (2014) found that teenage girls who had been sexually abused were twice as likely to
become pregnant when compared with girls who had not been sexually abused. Furthermore,
researchers found that teenagers who were victims of physical abuse were one and a half times
more likely to become pregnant when compared to teenagers who were not physically abused
(Madigan et al., 2014).
Abstinence-only education has been found to be positively correlated with teen
pregnancy rates. According to one study, states in which abstinence is strongly emphasized have
higher teenage pregnancy rates than with a comprehensive sex education curriculum that
includes information about abstinence but does not emphasize it (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011).
Exposure to media containing unrealistic messages about sex such as overstating how common it
is and excluding facts regarding the risks of having unprotected sex has also been found to be a
risk factor that can increase the likelihood of teen pregnancy (Noone et al., 2014).

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Other factors related to teen pregnancy include ethnicity (Noone et al., 2014), lack of
access to birth control or reproductive health services (Honig, 2012) and having been a victim of
neglect (Helfrich & McWey, 2013). Some of the factors that influence the risk of teenage
pregnancy can be prevented while others are inevitable. For instance, ethnicity, socioeconomic
status or whether or not one is victim to neglect, sexual or physical abuse are not chosen.
Nevertheless, it is possible to make some changes in an attempt to decrease the likelihood of teen
pregnancy for an adolescent. It is important to ensure that kids understand the possibility of
negative consequences related to unprotected sex including the likelihood of pregnancy (Noone
et al., 2014). Minimizing conflict at home and increasing communication between parent and
child may also be helpful (Miller & Benson 2001). Providing comprehensive sex education as
well as access to reproductive health services may help decrease the rates of teenage pregnancy
(Azar, 2012). In addition to having more open and honest conversations about sex with
adolescents and making birth control more accessible, there are various other mitigating factors
for teen pregnancy.
Teens benefit from having aspirations and goals for the future as these appear to serve as
an incentive for the prevention of teen pregnancy (Noone et al., 2014). Basch (2011) suggests
that encouraging students to pursue their goals for high school graduation and college attendance
leads adolescents to understand that teen pregnancy my hinder their educational attainment.
Honest, thorough and age appropriate information about sexuality as well as the prevention of
STDs and pregnancy is very important in helping decrease the likelihood of teens engaging in
risky sexual behavior and becoming pregnant (Silk & Romero, 2014). Azar (2012) found that a
whole community approach was very effective for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The city of
Milwaukee had a 24% decrease in birthrates among teens following the implementation of a

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citywide program (Azar, 2012). The program implemented in this city included: age appropriate,
comprehensive human development and sexuality education provided in the schools in all
grades, curricula provided outside of the schools on prevention of teen pregnancy and STDs,
guidance for parents on how to effectively communicate with their teens about sex, accessible
reproductive health services and a media campaign that emphasized the negative impact that
pregnancy can have on teen parents and the community in general. These findings are
particularly noteworthy given that poverty is a significant risk factor for adolescent pregnancy
and Milwaukee is one of the poorest cities in the U.S with over 40 percent of children living
below the poverty line (Azar, 2012).
Peer educators have also been found effective in teaching adolescents about the negative
consequences of teen pregnancy (Minnick & Shandler, 2011). Researchers found that after one
session during which two teen moms shared about their experience with pregnancy, parenting
and the difficulty of being mothers at such a young age, students changed their perceptions of
teen pregnancy (Minnick & Shandler, 2011). Minnick & Shandler (2011) found that after the
session, students had a better understanding of health risks associated with adolescent pregnancy
and their beliefs that a baby could improve relationships or reduce feelings of loneliness had
changed. There are some actions that can be taken early in a childs life to improve their chances
of having healthy relationships and reducing the probability that they will succumb to pressures
to engage in unprotected sex during adolescence. For instance, making sure to develop a secure
attachment with a child and teaching her/him the appropriate names for body parts will lead to
the child having a sense of self-worth and the ability to communicate openly about safe sex or
unwanted sexual advances from others (Honig, 2012).

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Although teen pregnancy is a complicated issue, it is also an important issue that affects
society as a whole. There are many factors that increase the risk for teen pregnancy.
Nevertheless, there are also various factors that may help reduce the likelihood of an adolescent
becoming pregnant. It may be particularly important to consider these factors when working with
at-risk youth such as adolescents from low SES families or minority groups. Mitigating factors
for teen pregnancy should be considered when developing interventions. Given that open
communication between children and their parents can serve as a moderating factor, education
for parents to help them better communicate with their children may be an effective intervention
(Honig, 2012). Extracurricular activities may also serve as useful interventions (Noone et al.,
2014). In the case of sexually abused children who are at high risk for teen pregnancy, sexual
health counseling as an intervention may be particularly useful (Madigan et al., 2014).
Comprehensive sexual education has also been found to be an effective intervention, specifically
when implemented in and out of the school setting (Azar, 2012). Finally, peer education may be
very useful in helping students grasp the reality of teen parenthood (Minnick & Shandler, 2011).
Adolescent pregnancy is a reason for concern given its high rate of occurrence in the
United States. In addition to its economic costs, there are also many societal costs. Teen
pregnancy costs U.S tax payers billions each year (Azar, 2012) and children of teen parents are
more likely to be born prematurely, struggle academically and to become teen parents when
compared to children of adult parents (Honig, 2012). A high teen pregnancy rate is problematic
as it will eventually lead to a substantial population of citizens with poor education and low SES.
This will only perpetuate a cycle of poverty and lead to detrimental effects on our society. Given
the negative impacts of a high teen pregnancy rate, it is crucial to better understand the risk and
mitigating factors for teen pregnancy. By understanding these factors, we may be able to better

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prevent teen pregnancy and to decrease its rate in the United States. Reducing the pregnancy rate
in the US can have a significantly positive impact on our society. Not only will it save taxpayers
money by decreasing the tax burden but it will also increase the rate of high school completion
amongst teenage girls and adolescent health will be overall improved.

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References
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Helfrich, C. M., & McWey, L. M. (2014). Substance use and delinquency high-risk behaviors as
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