Study Links Shows Like 16 And Pregnant To A Drop in Teenage Pregnancy

Unhappy Baby and MotherThere have been times I’ve been critical of shows like 16 and Pregnant because I thought that they glamorize teenage pregnancy by exploiting the teenage girls on the show and even making celebrities out of some of them.

Having worked in a high school in the past with a fairly high rate of teenage pregnancy, I knew that teenage pregnancy wasn’t glamorise at all. All of the girls I worked with in the high school who became pregnant eventually dropped out. Some dropped out only to have another kid a year later.

In my article Young, Poor and Pregnant I discuss some of the downsides of programming like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, but a new study called “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing” which was written by Melissa S. Kearny of the University of Maryland and Phillip B. Levine from Wellesley College, found that 18 months after the shows introduction, teen birth rates actually dropped 5.7 percent in 2010. According the New York Times, that 5.7 drop is an estimated 20,000 teenage births prevented.

The study also showed that using Neilson ratings, in areas where the show was highly popular, the rates of teenage pregnancies declined the fastest.

During their study, the authors found that search engine searches and tweets about  birth control and abortion grew significantly after the show was introduced. While I have written about some of the negatives of the show, I was surprised and happy to see that it had benefits that show that teenage girls aren’t as brainwashed and reality TV obsessed as some of us adults like to think. In fact, the study shows that many teenage girls can look at shows like this and not glamorize it, but recognize that they don’t want their lives to be as complicated, crazy or hard as most of the teenage moms on the shows.

One of the benefits of shows about teenage mothers is that they discuss an issue that is often shied away from and more accurately show the true effects of being a teenage mom, better than any sex education class or most lectures could. No one is totally crediting shows about teenage moms as the sole reason for the decline in teenage pregnancy. The rate of teenage pregnancy has been on the decline over the last 20 years and things such as the recession also bring the birth rate down.

However, what the show does do is make it more real so that teens can see that real teenage motherhood may not be the fairytale that they may imagine it will be (“now he will stay with me”, “I’ll feel more loved and supported”, etc.).  These shows alone aren’t enough to continue to prevent teenage pregnancy. There still needs to be good sex education and parental guidance. One potential negative of the show is that in the study there was a trend for teenage girls who watched the show heavily to perceive the teenage mothers as having easier lives and still have time to be a kid, which usually isn’t the reality. For the most part,  the one thing we can take away from this study is that teenage girls are more capable of learning from other teenagers mistakes than we may have given them credit for in the face of so much reality TV where the bad girls are celebrated and consequences seem few and far between.

Motivating Your Unmotivated Teen Part 2: Understanding Change

Teen AngstIn part one we started discussing the importance of having a good relationship with your adolescent in order to help facilitate motivation and change.

Often times, too many parents try to motivate their child instead of developing motivation as a function of their relationship with their child. That means that you have to serve as a source of motivation in someway.

You can’t expect your teenager to want to do something different if you haven’t demonstrated motivation and change behavior in your own life, or if your efforts to motivate them include constant nagging and criticism.

Sometimes that is all that is needed, for a teenager to be in a relationship with other people that are inspiring.

For example, I have a running partner who is a much better runner than I am, yet running with him has motivated me. He encourages me sometimes, but for the most part, I run to not disappoint him and because I enjoy his company. In the process, I became a better runner which motivated me to continue running. The key factor in that is the relationship with my running partner that helped start the process and the motivation to continue it.

It would have been nearly impossible for me to find motivation in our running relationship if he was always cancelling or if he showed up just to show me up. The same principles apply for parents trying to help their teens find motivation. They have to have a motivating relationship.

Motivation Is Change Oriented Movement.

That is the simplest definition of motivation. This definition focuses on motivation as a matter of change that is directed towards behavior, not thinking. When it comes to motivation, it’s often more important to focus on changing the behavior and not the thinking, but changes in thinking generally follow changes in behavior.  But why do people change? What makes people, especially teenagers, decide to do something different? What factors and circumstances have to come into place to facilitate change?

Why Do Adolescents Change? 

Many people believe that people change to avoid discomfort. Often however, unpleasant feelings and experiences actually decrease the chances of someone taking action, which is another reason punishments often don’t have the long term effect they were intended to have.

There are three conditions that need to be in place for change to happen:

1. The change has to be associated with intrinsic value.

Even external consequences that have intrinsic value can work, but the teen has to find intrinsic value in the change in order for it to occur and be long lasting. You have to have a relationship with your child that allows you to discover what is intrinsically valuable to your child. Trying to do that through punishments and groundings is usually futile.

2. Your teen has to be able, willing and ready to change.

This is where a lot of parents fail, not understanding that their teenager won’t change until they are capable of making the change, are willing to make the change and then is willing to make the change. You can not push your teenager into making a change they are unwilling or not ready to make, all you are going to get is defiance and discord.

Change can not be forced on anyone, no matter how important you think the change may be or how much it makes sense. Change will only come when your teenager is willing, ready and capable of making the change required.

3. The teenager has to be in a safe, empowering and accepting environment.

Your teen’s primary environment is their relationship with you, which means you have to provide a safe, empowering and accepting relationship if you want to see your teenager make positive changes.

The number one factor in providing this type of environment/relationship is having unconditional positive regard, where your teen can feel free to express their thoughts and emotions without criticism. This doesn’t mean that you will tolerate uncivil or inappropriate behavior from your child, but it does mean that you will not try to change their thoughts.

Communication is also key in developing the type of environment necessary for change.

This means having open, non-judgmental conversations about the problem and sometimes this alone can be enough to facilitate the motivational and change processes. This can be hard for parents to do because they are used to talking, dictating and teaching, when listening to their teenager is often more  productive.

Your teenager wants to be listened to. Dictating to them what they need to do is usually a sure way to kill motivation, not induce it.

Accept your teenager for who they are.

By accepting your teen for who they are, you make room for motivation and change. If however, you criticize your teen for who they are, they are more likely to actually feel unmotivated to make any changes you would like to see them make. Acceptance facilitates change, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you approve of your teenager’s behavior, it just means that you are not going to criticize or judge them. There is a right time for useful criticism that we will discuss in another segment.

Next post we will discuss indecisiveness and the stages of change which are important to understand when trying to understand the change process.

Teenage Girls And Older Men: What Every Parent Should Know

43347cc03a1a41c2bbb6389d7947f97fWorking with teenage girls, there’s a lot of things I worry about because the teenage years are so perplexing, especially with teenage girls who are often searching for a sense of belonging to the point that they are willing to starve themselves, cut themselves out of pain and shame, sleep with boys just to feel wanted, and sadly, even attempt to take their own lives when they feel as if they don’t and will never belong.

This search for belonging, often sends teenage girls into unhealthy relationships that further damage their self-esteem and often expose them to other damaging factors such as unprotected sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.

During the teenage years, young people are trying to come into their own and often rebel against their parents and other adults, which is why they often chose friends and relationships that their parents disapprove of, including dating older men.

I hate when I am working with a teenage girl and she tells me she is dating an older man, usually because I know that this relationship, while to her may be idyllic and dreamy, is more often a disaster waiting to happen on so many levels.

Recently a client of mine who is 17, started dating a 23 year old man, and while the age difference isn’t drastic, one has to think, what would a 23 year old man who could date anyone 18 and up, want with a 17 year old high school student? Did someone say sex? Of course they had a lot of that, often unprotected, but luckily she never got pregnant although she hasn’t gotten tested for any sexually transmitted diseases. I told her when she initially talked about him pursuing her, his reason was that there aren’t any girls 21 and up that were “cool”, that there just wasn’t something right about a man who should be on the verge of finishing college, dating someone who’s in high school.

I told her that had to say something about his motives, personality, etc., but of course she didn’t see this as a red flag, but was instead flattered that someone who could date anyone his age or older, chose to date her. After several months of bliss and sex, he started treating her badly and her moods were very erratic, varied by however they were doing at the moment. If they were good, she was happy, going to class, doing good. If he was ignoring her, she was depressed, missing class, consumed with anxiety.

Eventually he left her for a woman his own age and that should have been the end of it, but now she is talking about dating his OLDER brother who is married with a kid, but text messaged her one night at 3Am, “I think you are so sexy, and I’ve been fantasizing about you”, from his wive’s phone nonetheless. Once again, all bad signs, but she’s an emotional, hormonal, vulnerable, teenager trying to belong so she see’s this as another challenge.

Why Do Teenage Girls Date Older Men?

Some of the reasons include genuine chemistry. Chemistry doesn’t know have rigid age boundaries so there is a chance that there are genuine feelings there. Another reason includes greater financial and physical independence, which for a young teenage girl looking for independence, an escape from her family or surroundings, is very appealing. Also, older men are considered more mature and experienced in all aspects of life which is attractive to a young girl, especially one looking to escape her life.

The thing is, teenager girls often don’t realize just how unequal the relationship with an older man usually is. Usually the older man has more power simply from the fact that he is older, and they usually have more money and resources than the teenager or her friends. This takes her out of being equal, especially when it comes to making decisions, and because he is older, she will often get dictated to and assume that he is right or knows best. Also, because he will typically have more money than her and her peers, it will be easy for him to impress her by doing simple things such as taking her to the movies, a fastfood restaurant, picking her up from school or buying her a t-shirt or shoes.

Having an older boyfriend also becomes a status symbol, a way for the teenage girl to say that she is already grown-up and part of the adult world. She is no longer a child like her peers. Because of this, it may make it easier for her to start neglecting things like her peers and school work. After all, why should she worry about passing a chemistry test when her boyfriend is worried about paying his rent or losing his job. School and friends may start seeming childish in comparison to her boyfriend’s problems.

Teenage girls also often date older men to rebel against their parents, and the more the parents fight against it, the more likely the boyfriend is seen as an allie and will help begin to alienate her from her parents, under-minding their decisions and further breaking apart her support system, while strengthening his hold and isolating her.

Consequences of Dating Older Men

There are not only psychological risks involved with dating an older man and trying to fit into an adult world precociously, there are also dangers of being exposed to drugs, alcohol, abuse, and an increase rate of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Young teenage girls who contract sexually transmitted diseases often get them from older boyfriends. Older men usually have had more sexual experience that often include risky sexual behaviors. The young teenage girl is not likely to question his sexual behavior or health status, and even if she did, she is likely to take his word for it instead of asking him to go get tested with her.

Teenage girls who date older men are more likely to get pregnant than teenage girls who date same age males for several reasons:

  • Older men seem to expect the teenage girl to take responsibility for contraceptive and often will use none if not asked.
  • Teenage girls today are less likely to use birth control compared to women in the past.
  • Teenage girls may actually want to get pregnant for several reasons. See my post Young, Poor and Pregnant.
  • An older man may actually not care if he gets the younger girl pregnant or may do so on purpose for control.

One study done by the California Center for Health reports that the average age of the fathers who got a 12 year old pregnant was 19.7, and a 13 year old pregnant was 17.2.

What To Do If Your Teenage Daughter Is Dating An Older Man

First of all, don’t freak out. Doing so may just push your daughter further into his arms. Try to talk to your daughter, express your concerns. Let her know that you only have her best interests at heart. She may still rebel and insist on seeing him, so don’t be afraid to lay down and enforce rules while she is still under 18, living in your house and going to school. Most of these relationships usually fizzle out if the teenager is allowed to come into her own in a healthy way, but often not before she is scarred in someway. A lucky few end up in marriage, which is often proceeded by a child and continues with multiple children, poverty, physical and substance abuse.

Try talking to the boyfriend. Let him know that if he really cares about her, he will abide by your wishes since you only have her best interest in mind and he should too if he cares about her. Depending on the age of your daughter and the age of the man, it may be appropriate to get law enforcement involved. Most of the teenage girls I work with who are dating older men are seeking something they feel like they aren’t getting from home, and while it may seem impossible to please your ever changing and complex teenager, try to talk with her, listen to and understand her. Otherwise, she will search for and find someone or something else to attach herself too.

Teen Mom Wants to Have Another Baby ASAP

What if your 18 year old daughter who is in the 11th grade of high school, already has a two year old child, told you she was planning on having another child by her new boyfriend in order to not be selfish?

Working with teenagers it’s rarely anything I see or hear these days that shock me, however, there are plenty of things I see and hear that leave me dumbfounded, including when one of my favorite teenage clients, who already has a child, told me that she plans to stop taking her birth control so she can get pregnant by her new boyfriend of only about three months. What?!?!

She told me that she thought it was UNFAIR to her son that he didn’t have a sibling and unfair to her new boyfriend that she didn’t have a child by him and that she felt like she was being selfish to everyone by WAITING until the right time (oh, let’s say after she finished high school, started a career, got married) to have another child. I sat listening to her, almost hoping that I had falling off into a daydream and that this was just all part of my imagination, but it wasn’t. This high school junior, soon to be senior, with one child at home already was telling me that she was planning on getting pregnant again as soon as possible! She is already raising this child without the father’s involvement and I shouldn’t say she is raising her child because her parents are actually the ones taking care of her and her current child, yet she wants to go and get pregnant again!

I know part of the psychology of why she wants to get pregnant again is to keep her current boyfriend around. She is thinking that if she gets pregnant by her current beau, they will stay together forever. I am sure she had that same delusional fantasy with her current child’s father who she hasn’t seen in over two years. You would think she would have learned, but the delusional, fantasy world and mind of a teenager is a hard shell to crack, no matter how many times the world gets dropped on it.

As I listened to her, I actually felt a great deal of heartache for her because she was about to go and do something dumb… at least in my professional opinion. The chances of her being 18 with two kids, barely a high school degree, and being successful aren’t in her favor, especially coupled with her history of alcohol and drug use and her impulsive behavior that often leads her to be in dangerous situations.

I tried and hope I spoke some sense into her. I told her that she isn’t being selfish by waiting for the right time (and person) to have another child. I told her that it is OKAY for her to be selfish when it comes to her life. A lot of times we are told so many times about not being selfish that we forget that sometimes being selfish is a form of self-care and self-preservation. I also told her that it wouldn’t be fair to her, her current child or her future children if she once again got pregnant by a man who wouldn’t be around to help her raise the child(ren) they produced together. I definitely tried to convince her that waiting until after high school, after college (which she plans to attend), and hopefully after getting married, would be the time for her to have more children if she so chose to do that. Being a high school senior next year with two kids her and her parents are raising together is not the situation she wants to be in.

I really hope I convinced her that having a child right now, with a guy she’s only known for three months, is not a rational decision, but a large majority of the teenage mind functions irrationally. Their brains are just wired differently at this age and we’ll explore that in a future post. The bottom line is, every high school girl I’ve worked with that got pregnant to keep a boy NEVER ends up with that boy more than a year or so later. Does it happen? I’m sure it does, but I haven’t seen it. Still, it doesn’t stop them from thinking otherwise and even if they already had a child and that child’s father disappeared shortly after the birth of the child, some of them will still be convinced, as this young lady is, that it won’t happen again.

This isn’t the first time I had to deal with something similar to this. Not too long ago one of my high school clients who had a baby less than a year ago, wanted to have another baby right away because that is what her boyfriend (the babys’ father) wanted. A month or so later they broke up because he wasn’t helping her take care of the baby they already had. Imagine if she would have gotten pregnant with a second child like she wanted.