The Impact of Teen Childbearing

In 1999 in Hamilton County, there were 240 teens between the age of 10 and 17 who became pregnant.

Compare that to 98 teens in the same age range in 2013, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. It's a 59 percent decrease in unwed teen pregnancies. Even in the 18-to 19-year-old age group, pregnancies have dropped from 470 in 1999 to 244 in 2013, a stunning 48 percent decrease.

This is good news... sort of.

The people of Hamilton County are definitely doing some things right in order to see this kind of decrease. However, we cannot forget the 321 children who were born to teen moms in 2013. The breakdown is: 227 18-19-year-olds, 88 15-17-year-olds and six 10-14 year olds.

Research from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies indicates that teen childbearing in the U.S. costs taxpayers — federal, state and local — at least $9.4 billion annually.

Consider these statistics:

  • 66 percent of pregnant teens report histories of dating abuse.

  • Only 30 percent of teen fathers pay child support.

  • Teen mothers are nearly twice as likely to forego prenatal care during the first trimester.

  • Only 38 percent of teen girls who have a child before the age of 18 graduate from high school.

  • Daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

  • One in three teens becomes pregnant by age 20.

If a teen mother does not earn a high school diploma or GED, the child will likely spend 64 percent of his or her life in poverty. In fact, a child born to a teen mother who has not finished high school and is not married is nine times more likely to be poor than a child born to a married adult who has finished high school.

Research consistently shows that teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of critical social issues — poverty and income, overall child well-being, responsible fatherhood, health issues, education, child welfare and risky behaviors. As previously noted, there are substantial public costs associated with adolescent childbearing. If more children in this country were born to parents who are ready and able to care for them, we would see a significant reduction in a host of social problems afflicting children in the United States.

So what can parents do to help prevent teen pregnancy?

First, talk about the facts of life. Communicate your values and convictions about love, sex, commitment and marriage.

If you are having trouble deciding what to talk about, here are some questions teens have said they want to discuss.

  • "How do I know if I'm in love?"

  • "Will sex bring me closer to my girlfriend/boyfriend?"

  • "How will I know when I'm ready to have sex? Should I wait until marriage?"

  • "Will having sex make me popular? Will it make me more grown-up and open up more adult activities to me?"

  • "How do I tell my boyfriend that I don't want to have sex without losing him or hurting his feelings?"

  • "How do I manage pressure from my girlfriend to have sex?"

  • "Can you get pregnant the first time?"

The good news is more parents are boldly talking about sex and healthy relationships with their teens. As a community, it is critical that we support them in their efforts to raise young people who are well on their way to achieving a successful future and marriage.