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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU researchers examine little-explored area: parental perspectives on teen pregnancy

Teenage pregnancies result in higher medical costs, increased rates of poverty, poorer birth outcomes, prolonged single parenting and decreased educational achievement for adolescent parents and their children.

ost research on adolescent pregnancy rates has focused on teen parents, teen parents-to-be or their health care providers, little research has concentrated on the parents or families of teens, despite growing evidence identifying these two groups as the most important influences on adolescent behaviors.

"There are lots of myths in health care about the families of pregnant teens," said Jacquelyn Williams, an assistant professor of nursing at New Mexico State University. "We cannot find evidence of any families talking extensively about their experiences and perceptions, what happens in their families, which things in their communities do or do not work or what they would have done differently. There is no systematic data collection for this."

Professors Alison Mann from the Department of Nursing, Robert Blair and Martha Roditti from the School of Social Work and Barry Thatcher from the Department of English are co-investigators on this project.

The researchers hope to learn about the parents' attitudes, values, beliefs and experiences regarding adolescent pregnancy in the Mexico-New Mexico border area. They also will learn how parents perceive the impact of pregnancy on the families of adolescent mothers and fathers, how supports and barriers affect family processes during adolescent pregnancy and how potential strategies to prevent adolescent pregnancy can be implemented.

A long list of statistics shows teen pregnancy is a growing health concern:

About one in every five births in Dona Ana County is to a female younger than 20 years old. That same statistic holds true for Mexico.
Adolescent pregnancy and parenting costs about seven billion dollars a year in the U.S. and 88 million dollars a year in New Mexico.
In the 1990s, more than two-thirds of U.S. adolescents who gave birth to their first child by age 15 and more than one-half of those who became parents between the ages of 15 and 17 did not finish high school.
Eighty percent of women receiving welfare in the U.S. had their first child before age 20.
In New Mexico and Mexico, about 20 percent of teen mothers had a second child by their 20th birthday.
Teen mothers and teen fathers in the U.S. and Mexico risk living at poverty levels for longer periods of time and earn less per year during early adulthood than young people who were not parents as adolescents.
Compared to other ethnic groups in the U.S., a disproportionate number of younger women in Mexican-American families become parents. Interviews conducted in 1999 with 107 adolescents who gave birth in Dona Ana County showed that 73 percent of the new mothers were Hispanic. About 60 percent of all adolescent women in the county are of Hispanic descent.

The research team will use eight focus groups - four in Dona Ana County and four in Juarez. Each group will comprise five to eight parents of adolescent boys or girls involved in a pregnancy or parenting a baby.

"One of the great things about focus groups is that the people talking to you are the experts," Mann said. "The academician is not the expert. So many times, people will open up because they want you to know what they're going through or what they've been through and they want you to do something about it so others won't have to go through the same rough times. So we just sit and listen to them, asking some questions, and putting their information into context as far as themes or patterns."

The researchers also will examine the participants' relationships with their spiritual communities to see if such resources are wellsprings of strength or sources of aggravation. Williams remembered one mother who was on the board of her local parish.

"Her daughter's quinceanera's pictures were all over. When I interviewed her, she was crocheting and while the tears fell because having a pregnant teenage daughter was not what she wanted, she worked as hard as she could to make sure her daughter had everything she needed. The woman was very distressed personally, but the social system is set up so young parents can do well if they want to since there's medical care and they can stay in school."

One often overlooked benefit of teen pregnancies is that many pregnant young women will finally get the medical and educational attention they've needed since grade school or kindergarten, Williams noted. Others who may have had no direction in life now have a reason to work hard since their babies are dependent upon them. Sustained assistance from the families helps the young women and their male partners succeed.

"Well-functioning families will organize and make this as successful as possible," Williams said. "In most cases, the family will work very hard to try to support their young man or young woman who is involved in a pregnancy or parenting a young child."

Bob Nosbisch
April 3, 2006