Young, Poor and Pregnant

Why Your Teenaged Girls Get Pregnant

I work with a lot of young teenage girls and they all have a few things in common, including curiosity, misinformation about and pressure to have sex. What I hear a lot in the inner-city school I work at is that “everyone is doing it”, so the pressure to be part of the overall sexual culture becomes very important, at times, more important than the girls own autonomy. Most of these girls are clueless about sex and birth control. They are too afraid to let their parents know that they are sexually active, would die of embarrassment if a condom was found in their purse and would be too ashamed and scared to ask the guy they are having sex with, to put on a condom, if he doesn’t automatically do it. So instead, they open themselves up in more ways than one to everything that comes with precocious sex including sexually transmitted disease and psychological impairment.

Many get pregnant out of simple ignorance, but most get pregnant for more complex and often subconscious reasons. In her book, Young, Poor and Pregnant Judith Musick goes into great details about the psychology of teenage motherhood and why young girls decide to engage in sex, get pregnant and have babies. These girls usually get pregnant because of the lack of some other need. From my personal experience, six out of about forty young women I worked with last school year got pregnant for these reasons:

  • “My mom has been in prison all my life. I’ve never really had a mother. I can be a better mom than she was.” –“Luz”, 15, 10th grade
  • “My mom and I don’t get along. I think me being pregnant and having her grand daughter will bring us closer.” –“Jessica”, 17, 10th grade
  • “I have no idea what I want to do in my life. I’m failing school. I might as well have a baby and marry my boyfriend.” –“Rosaria”, 15, 10th grade
  • “Having a baby will give me someone who will always love and want me.” –“Keyana”, 17, 11th grade
  • “My boyfriend has a baby with another girl. If we have a baby together then I won’t have to worry about him leaving me for his first baby’s momma.” –“Brianna”, 15, 9th grade.
  • “My boyfriend and I have been fighting a lot. I think having a baby will bring us closer together.” –“Laura”, 18, 11th grade.

Only one of these young ladies came back to school after giving birth to their children. The other five dropped out. It’s hard for a young mother to continue her education after having a child, especially with a lack of support. The one girl that did come back  has a lot of support from her family and her baby’s father.

Why African American and Hispanic Teenage Girls Have Babies More Than Their European American Counterparts

European American teenage girls that get pregnant are more likely to have an abortion or give their baby up for adoption than African American or Hispanic teens. A small part of this may be finances, but more so I think is the strong anti-abortion and anti-adoption heritage in these communities. These children are also more likely to grow up in poverty if these young mothers are emulating their family and community. If it is the norm for 16 year old girls to get pregnant, drop out and get on welfare, where is the push for other young girls in the community to be different? If these young girls mothers had them while they were young, had more kids than they could financially and psychologically take care of, and these young girls older siblings repeated the cycle, it is incredibly hard for this young lady to avoid that same trap unless she has a strong will or other safety measures and programs are put in place.

Real Life Example

The other day a good friend of mine called me in shock. His 15 year old daughter is pregnant. She’s only in the 8th grade. This saddened me, but this is a generational curse. Her mother had her when she was 16 which is about the same age her grandmother had her mother. However, my friend and this young ladies mother were doing the best they could to keep her from making those mistakes, but it wasn’t enough. I’m convinced that the psychosocial factors surrounding her getting pregnant and then deciding she wants to keep the baby were even stronger and more prominent than whatever interventions her parents were trying to implement.

The Good News

Despite the popularity of shows like “16 and Pregnant”, The number of teenage girls that are getting pregnant is at its lowest point in nearly two decades according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, according to the CDC, 1,100 teenage women get pregnant each year which means that about one out of every ten babies born are born to teen moms.

Better education and prevention programs need to be put in place and it all starts at home. Don’t be afraid to talk to your teen or preteen about sex. If you are uncomfortable talking to them, they will be uncomfortable talking to you and you both will end up having an uncomfortable conversation when she becomes pregnant. Get sexually active teens on a form of birth control. Yes abstinence is the best way, but birth control AND a condom will hopefully keep your sexually active teen from becoming a teen mother.

Letting the Dead Die this Easter Sunday

Holding on to Dead Stuff

One of the reasons we get cheated out of the most our lives can be is because we hold on to too much dead stuff. Dead relationships, dead jobs and dead dreams.

This Easter, the resurrection, no matter what religion (or no religion) you believe in, can have significant meaning for all of us. Perhaps you are married to something that is dead or holding on to a dream that is dead. Too many of us are holding on to death.

Many of us have dreams that need to die. It’s not the most pleasant thought, but holding on to a dream that will never come to fruition holds us back from realizing the dreams that can and have already come true. It can’t happen until you let that dream die.

A new great relationship can’t happen until you let your old relationship die. You’re tied to something dead.

Your dream job might be right around the corner, but it’s hard if not impossible to get to it if you are holding on to your dead job.

What’s in Your Life that Needs to Die?

This Easter, and periodically afterwards, I want you to examine what is it in your life that needs to die. Maybe it’s a fantasy. Maybe you’re holding out for the perfect person and you’re missing so many other terrific people because you won’t let that fantasy die. This Easter is all about resurrection. Let what is dead go so that you can make room in your life for everything that is waiting to be raised.

Easter represents the the new life we all can find by living in the truth. Let what needs to die die so that this Easter Sunday, and everyday forward, you can be free to be all you were meant and born to be.

“April”: A Quick Case Study (or more like a synopsis)

Every three months as part of my grant we have to do a report and in that report, besides asking for numbers to validate and show evidence of my value, we have to write about one client that has improved over those three months. I decided to share that client with you.


April  (17 year old female) lives in a group home where she has been for about five years after being removed from her family because of neglect and ongoing sexual abuse.

When I met April she was having a hard time focusing in school, often walked off campus and ran away from her group home. Her grades were very poor and she was prone to emotional and angry outbursts. She was brought to me initially by another counselor after she had threatened to punch her school bus driver, walked off the school bus and went missing for twenty four hours and was later found by local authorities.

I begin working with April (using mostly cognitive behavioral therapy) on controlling her emotions as well as working with her group home and guidance counselor to make sure all of her needs were being reasonably met. I put her in a life skills group which initially she was reluctant to join because “I don’t get along with other people” and met with her once weekly in private sessions, often helping her process her anger and fear about her family and about her future. I encouraged her to keep a journal and to write down everything she wanted to say to her family (no communication with her family in almost five years was her biggest issue). I also worked with her teachers to make sure that when April was having a “bad day”, they knew how to appropriately handle the situation and not escalate it or send her out of class which usually led to her walking off campus.

As a result, within a few weeks April stopped walking off campus and running away from her group home as she learned how to self-regulate her emotions. Her attitude improved and the number of referrals for classroom disruptions fell to nearly zero. Her grades improved and her number of “emotional breakdowns” during class fell to zero, as she was able to express her emotions in private sessions with me. She became a very active member of her group and her number of group home infractions also fell. She begin getting positive attention and positive rewards from both her group home and school staff and is a much calmer person today than she was when I first met her.

Because she is much better at regulating her emotions, we are able to spend more of our private sessions processing her feelings of abandonment by her family and working on (in conjunction with her independent living counselor) becoming more self-sufficient in preparation for the day she will turn eighteen and transition out of the group home. In an individual education plan meeting I attended with April a couple of weeks ago, she was highly praised on her many improvements in both academics and behavior.

-April really is one of my favorite clients. She is labeled “emotionally disturbed”, and while she is 17 and functions more often like a 12 year old, she’s grown a lot since the first day she set across from me as a very angry young lady with no respect for authority. She could have been diagnosed at that time as oppositional defiant,  but she had enough labels and I didn’t see the need to label her any more and as she has improved, i’m glad I wrote her initial diagnosis as “deferred” despite the constant push by insurance companies that “everyone gets a diagnosis”. Oh gosh, that is another whole post for another time.