Pregnant teens need lots of support, including social, medical, emotional and academic support. And it comes from family, school, church and the government.
The statistics and stories published by the Chickasaw Journal over the past three weeks repeatedly show pregnant teens with a strong support group raise healthier babies, continue their education and go on to live better and more productive lives.
And those same statistics show that children from strong families, strong churches and strong communities tend not to get pregnant in the first place.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s benchmark report “When Children Have Children,” stated it this way.
“One of the first kinds of support pregnant teens will need is emotional and social support,” the 2012 study said. “Though parents of pregnant teens may feel angry or disappointed, they should try to offer support to their teen who is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Some areas have support groups to help parents support their pregnant teens.”
And while there are resources in larger communities, in rural Chickasaw County the majority of support for a pregnant teen — and her parents — is family.
“The problem is if a teenager comes from a dysfunctional home, it is then up to the schools, churches and government to step in,” said Zettie Johnson, Okolona High School counselor. “I know 30-year-olds who are grandparents. They weren’t ready to be parents and they really aren’t prepared to be grandparents.”
And while Johnson said the goal is to break the cycle of teen pregnancy, she said the reality often is helping the parents of a pregnant teen deal with the pregnancy.
“I would like to point out there are people around here who will help a parent of a pregnant teen,” said Johnson. “They just need to call us at the school or call the health department and ask for help.”
Liz Sharlot, spokesman for the Mississippi State Department of Health, said clinics in Okolona and Houston gladly provide information and contacts for additional resources to “grandparents to be.”
“Adolescent clients utilizing family planning services are counseled to involve their parents, caregivers, or other significant adults in their decision to use contraception, prenatal care, and/or sexually transmitted diseases to assist the teen with making informed decisions,” said Sharlot.
She said that information is provided free of charge.
The health department can also point teens and parents to other government agencies.
Teenagers who can rely on family for emotional, financial and child-care support are more likely to continue their education and get higher paying jobs as they move through life.
Getting parents to have “The Talk” with their teenager about sex is effective in preventing pregnancy, but parents tend to ignore it. The CDC says only 44-percent of girls and 27-percent of boys have spoken with their parents about both abstinence and birth control.
Young women often think of contraception either as “the pill” or condoms and have little knowledge about other methods. They are heavily influenced about methods of contraception from their friends and the media. These prejudices are extremely difficult to overcome. Over concern about side effects – weight gain, acne – often affect a teen’s choice.
Missing up to three pills a month is common. Restarting after the pill-free week, having to hide pills, drug interaction and difficulty getting repeat prescriptions can all lead to method failure.
As one CDC study said of a married mother about her daughter, “I have trouble getting her to get on the school bus on time each morning, much less having to have an awkward conversation over and over with her about ‘did you take your pill this morning?’”
Pregnant teens face special medical needs and should see a doctor as early in their pregnancy as possible. A good doctor will give the teen advice about nutrition, common fears and concerns regarding teen pregnancy, what to expect during and after pregnancy, and possible complications that might occur.
And medical support doesn’t stop at the delivery room door. Teens who are raising their baby will have a lot of questions about being a good mom and need information on how to raise a healthy baby and what to expect from motherhood.
Houlka School Nurse Chandra Warren said her office gladly provides information to pregnant teens and their parents.
“Pregnancy is always a life-changing event in a family’s life,” said Warren. “If parents or teens come to us looking for information, we don’t turn them away.”
One of the most important things a pregnant teen can do for herself and her baby is to finish school, but this can be difficult.
Houston High School Counselor Susan Allen said the stigma of being pregnant in school is not what it used to be and girls who are in school at the time they become pregnant tend to stay in school.
“Pregnant teens need the support of at least one concerned adult, such as a parent, teacher or counselor, who can help them find the best programs to get finished with school,” said Allen. “I don’t know any teacher who won’t do all in their power to help a girl who is pregnant get her diploma.”
Allen said, while many talk about the need for broad community support to fight teen pregnancy, schools are often the only resource a pregnant teen can trust. She said more effort involving schools, social services, individuals, civic clubs and churches to mentor young people is needed.
Who can help?
Warren, Allen and Johnson each said there are two factors that influence when and if a young lady might get pregnant:
Parent involvement – Each said girls and boys who have a strong father figure and a mother they can talk to, tend not to get pregnant and do better with the pregnancy and raising the child if they do.
Sex education – Each said boys and girls who have the knowledge of what causes pregnancy, ways to prevent it, and/or reasons to abstain tend to not get pregnant.
Open lines of communication between parents and other adults is critical before, during and after a teen pregnancy.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says there are other types of pregnant teen support a teen may need, depending on her situation. Some of these types of pregnant teen support include:
- Marriage. Pregnant teens who choose to marry may want counseling and guidance as they face the challenge of supporting each other and their baby.
- Financial. Pregnant teens and teen moms need to be able to pay for medical care and good nutrition before and after birth. Women, Infants, and Children – WIC, Medicaid and other programs are available to help mothers have a healthy pregnancy and birth. Pregnant teens should also learn financial skills like managing money and finding and keeping a job.
- Adoption. Pregnant teens who choose to give babies up for adoption may want to join an adoption support group, or may want to talk to participants to find out if adoption is right for them.
- Spiritual. Many pregnant teens may want spiritual guidance on the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood, or the choices now facing them in life, such as getting married or raising a baby as single parent. Religious groups may offer support groups or counseling, possibly even to those of other religions.