BY: SUZY RODRIGUEZ
Milwaukee has done a tremendous job in turning around our high rates of teenage pregnancy. In 2008, the only major city in the nation with a higher rate of teen pregnancy than Milwaukee was Philadelphia. Prior to that, Milwaukee had been ranked within the top five cities for over a decade.
Due to a sustained and concerted effort involving many individuals and community partners, the teen birth rate has dropped by 50% since 2008. Although this is an amazing feat and we have much to celebrate, the work is still far from over.
There are still too many teenagers having babies, especially considering that the outcomes for both the teens and their children are often poor. Teen mothers are much more likely to drop out of school compared to teenagers without children. According to the America’s Promise Alliance and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 30 percent of teen mothers cite pregnancy or parenting as the primary reason for dropping out of high school. The numbers of African American and Latino girls who drop out for this reason are even higher. Overall, only 40 percent of teenage mothers finish high school and only 2 percent finish college by age 30.
The economic ramifications of this statistic are self-evident. Without even a high school degree, it is extremely difficult to succeed in a global economy. According to The Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 67 percent of teen mothers living on their own live below the poverty line and only one quarter receive any kind of child support. Additionally, about 63 percent receive some kind of public assistance. These statistics have a direct negative impact on the nation’s economy.
Economic consequences aside, teenage girls are not mentally prepared for motherhood. Recent findings related to adolescent brain development demonstrate that the teen brain is far from fully developed–in particular, those features that reign in emotional and impulsive responses. The frontal lobes of the brain are not fully connected at this age. As a result, teens are more likely to display dangerous and addictive behaviors during this stage of development. This lack of ability to restrain impulses and, at times, to even think logically, can have huge ramifications for parenting.
The outcomes for the babies born to teen moms are also concerning. Children born to teen parents are often born into poverty and remain there throughout their lives. These children tend to be less ready for school and score significantly lower on math and reading measures of school readiness. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, children born to teen moms finished high school at a rate 15 percent lower than children born to older mothers.
Young pregnancies carry health risks for the children as well. Health issues for babies born to teen mothers include higher rates of prematurity and lower birth weights. These in turn can lead to greater chances of blindness, mental retardation, deafness, cerebral palsy, chronic respiratory issues and many other problems including sudden infant death.
Additionally, children of teen moms are twice as likely to abuse their own children. Their sons are more likely to go to prison and their daughters are much more likely to become pregnant themselves as teenagers. These are outcomes we don’t wish for our children.
So though we can congratulate ourselves on a job well done, our work isn’t finished until we end teen pregnancy completely. We cannot rest until it becomes standard to refrain from childbearing until an age at which a woman is fully prepared to raise those children.