Only by consulting with those who have had a teenage pregnancy, we can attempt to really understand the needs and aspirations of this group without assuming an age bracket can define a whole population. To that end, I decided toconduct a survey via my Twitter account. You can look at the results here. At the time of writing I had 82 responses.
Why teenagers really get pregnant
The reasons that teenage girls get pregnant are varied, just as they are for older women.
Some, particularly those who are 18 and 19, have made a decision to have a baby because they are in a stable relationship and want to start a family, as was the norm for this age group not so many decades ago.
For others, reasons include: contraception failure, not thinking, getting caught up in the moment, believing they couldn’t get pregnant, not feeling comfortable obtaining contraception, being drunk, feeling pressured to have unprotected sex, and being too embarrassed to ask a partner to use contraception. Many of these responses, particularly for young teenagers, do not portray a young person in control and making their own choices. There has been a lot of work to address these vulnerabilities amongst teenagers over the last decade, resulting in the under-18 conception rate now being the lowest it’s been since 1969.
However, this is not the whole story.
Most girls have time to make a decision whether to continue a pregnancy or not. For those who do decide to continue a pregnancy, it is often due to a feeling that they should take responsibility and that they could be a good mum. Even though the pregnancy wasn’t planned, the mother grows to want the baby. Maybe things didn’t start off as planned, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance to take control and turn things around, as most young mothers do.
For some girls, this decision of whether to continue a pregnancy or not is the first major decision they’ve been able to make.
Dispelling the myth that teens get pregnant to receive benefits
However, there is a common assumption, (likely to be expressed by those who have never experienced a teenage pregnancy), that teenagers get pregnant to receive benefits or housing; that it’s an “easy way out” so they don’t have to get a job, and that by removing such incentives the number of teenage pregnancies will drop. But not one of the 82 young women who responded to my survey considered benefits or housing in their decision to continue a pregnancy.
Placing young mothers in boarding houses, increasing stigma, punishing them for being pregnant are other ideas based on the assumption that teenage girls are manipulative and calculating enough to have a baby simply for financial gain.
This myth of young mothers enjoying a luxurious lifestyle on benefits encourages a focus of blame and disdain for young mothers, which isolates them further.
Removing thelimited benefits that some young mothers are entitled to (such as theproposals to remove housing benefit for under 25s) can only succeed in taking agency away from young mothers who are already making their own sacrifices to make up for a time when they didn’t have choices.
It is worth recognising that there are two people involved in an unplanned teenage pregnancy - and while young fathers can have varied support needs themselves, around half of these fathers are likely to be older than “teen” age, with a significant number much older and yet their role and responsibility is often ignored.
Alcohol and abuse
Those who responded to my survey also highlighted the much wider social problems around alcohol and abuse that may contribute to the higher rates of teenage pregnancies in Britain than the rest of Europe, as well as the lack of openness around sex - while at the same time, as one young mother said, “being fed sex through advertising and media with distorted images portraying sexual attractiveness as the height of success for girls/women” doesn't help.
If we really want to address unplanned pregnancies in teenagers, then we need to look at what their aspirations are. They seek: improved confidence, higher self-esteem, recognition of unhealthy relationships, access to non-judgmental contraception services and a feeling that they can make decisions and that they have goals to aim for.
We won’t help them to achieve their goals by punishing young mothers based on assumptions that they planned to have baby just to avoid getting a job at 16. If this is what society thinks of our young people, and how much it values them, then it really does have much wider social problems to address. And maybe we need an separate inquiry into that.
Sydney (AFP) - Electronic dolls designed to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy do not work, a new study has found, and may even increase the number of babies born to young mums.
Researchers found that girls between the ages of 13 and 15 who were given a simulator infant to look after were actually more likely to become pregnant early in life than those who had simple sex education.
The research could influence public health policy in countries where the technique is used, including Australia, the United States and Britain.
Around 3,000 youngsters took part in the study in Western Australia over three years from 2003, with researchers tracking their medical records until they reached the age of 20.
Half were given a life-like electronic doll, which needed to be cared for and cried like a real baby, for a weekend.
The other half, the control group, received only standard health education, according to the study published in The Lancet Thursday.
Lead researcher Sally Brinkman said the group given the robot baby were more likely to become pregnant early in life.
Of those who had charge of a doll, 17 percent recorded at least one pregnancy -- whether carried to full term or terminated -- by the age of 20.
The rate in the control group was just 11 percent, which researchers described as a small but statistically significant difference.
"Unfortunately that's the finding," Brinkman told AFP.
Brinkman said researchers at Western Australia's Telethon Kids Institute were trying to determine whether the robot babies, which she said cost over US$1,000 each, were worth the money.
She said while some of those researching the life-like dolls thought they were perhaps ineffective, no one had expected them actually in increase the likelihood of an early pregnancy.
"We never went into the study thinking this would increase teen pregnancy," she said.
Brinkman said the research did not reveal why the girls given the toy babies were more likely to fall pregnant at a young age.
"But from delivering the programme to that many girls, we got feedback," she said.
"And in general most of the students really liked it (the programme). You do get a lot of attention when you have (a pretend baby)."
Of all the girls who fell pregnant, 53.8 percent of those who had the robot baby terminated the pregnancy compared with 60.1 percent in the control group.
The researchers said while that difference was not huge, it indicated participants who had exposure to the robot baby appeared more likely go through with the pregnancy.
Brinkman said overall she could not recommend the idea of simulator infants if educators wanted to prevent teen pregnancy.
"The Virtual Infant Parenting Programme is used across Australia and the world because it is thought to reduce rates of teen pregnancy," she said in a statement.
"This is the largest study of its kind and highlights that even the most well-intentioned programmes can have unexpected consequences."