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Understanding Family Structures and Dynamics

Younger Parents

family structures
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Poor prenatal care can results in a high incidence of illness among children born to teen parents.

You have probably read how dismal the picture is for teenagers who choose to raise children in our society. We can't paint a pretty picture, either. If you're going to have a child and you're younger than 20 years of age, you can take steps to enhance the picture, but you may still face lots of difficulties.

Make sure you seek medical advice as soon as you know you're pregnant. It's unfortunate that most teens don't; often, they are embarrassed, don't know where to go to find advice, or just want to deny the pregnancy. Age, nutrition, and quality of care are all factors in maternal and baby health. Poor diet and lack of prenatal care can lead to complications such as anemia, premature birth, and low birth weight.

There can be long-term effects on the child when teens have and raise children. The prevalence of poor prenatal care often results in a high incidence of illness and mortality among children born to teen parents. Children often have educational and emotional problems later on. Research has shown that the younger the mother, the more likely it is her child will have a lower IQ score. Children of teens may become victims of child abuse or neglect simply because their parents are too immature to understand infant and child behaviors and may get frustrated very easily. Or the parents simply tire of having a child around and want to go out and have some fun-because they're still kids themselves. They may resent having to grow up in a hurry.

Financially, teens who have children are more likely to end up living below the poverty level. Research shows teen mothers tend to have additional children more rapidly, which means they're even less likely to be able to offset child care costs with income. This is compounded by the fact that teen mothers often terminate their education prematurely and qualify only for poorly paying jobs. Because they are often financially better off on welfare, welfare dependency is widespread among single teen mothers. Unable to achieve financial independence, teens who have children also often end up living with one or both of their parents.

Statistics show that when teen fathers remain with their mates and children, their educational attainment is also reduced, and their long-term earning power is less than that of their peers. Most often, teen fathers are not involved, and it has been assumed they don't want to be. Yet studies have found this to be a myth. Teen fathers often want to help the mother and child, but they themselves need assistance and support. Unfortunately, until recently, little or no attention has been paid to the problems of the teen father. Many of these young men have never had father figures themselves, and they just don't know how to father. Some pilot programs that provide counseling and job training for teen fathers have been very successful in encouraging young fathers to stay involved with their children and provide the necessary financial support. These programs are growing in number.

We can tell you about all the perils of having a child as a teen, but if you have already made the choice, you need to seek help for yourself. Call a hospital, family planning center, or your local health department to find out about teen pregnancy classes in your area. Such classes prepare you for labor and provide support. Some classes help you develop life skills and decision-making skills so you are better able to cope with the challenges of parenthood. If no teen pregnancy classes are available, check your local YMCA or YWCA for other kinds of parenting classes and support groups.

One program is the Minnesota Early Learning Design (MELD) for Young Moms (MYM). This program provides self-help groups led by former teen mothers. The groups meet one evening a week; teens are welcome to bring their babies. The evening includes a free meal, education, and time for sharing. The exact focus is determined by the needs of each group, but the objectives are to:


  1. enhance understanding of child development

  2. heighten self-awareness and involvement in the outside world to help establish future goals

  3. develop assertiveness and information-seeking skills

  4. improve the physical well-being of mother and child.
If your community does not have a MYM group, you can contact Parents as Teachers National Center, Inc. Attn: Public Information Specialist 2228 Ball Drive St. Louis, Mo. 63146; calling 314-432-4330; or vist

The best way to ensure you do not have the problems of a teenage parent or to prevent having more children is to learn about and use contraceptives. The capacity to reproduce is fully functional between the ages of 14 and 18 (and sometimes even earlier), so it's no wonder many teens who may think it's safe not to use contraception all the time, or to use it just once in a while, end up getting pregnant.

For contraception to work, you must anticipate when sexual activity will occur and recognize the risk of pregnancy. Then you must obtain a contraceptive, learn how to use it properly, and talk to your partner about your intention to use it. And you must use it, and use it every time you have sexual intercourse for it to work.

If you need more information about contraceptives, ask your doctor. If that's not comfortable, find your local family planning center. Family planning centers generally have counselors who are patient and understanding and very willing to help; they won't think you're stupid for asking questions. On the contrary, they recognize that your questions are a reflection of your concern and your need to be informed, so you can make responsible, mature decisions. Many family planning centers provide contraceptives if you don't have the money to buy them, or they sell them at a reduced rate. Take advantage of the opportunity.

Stepfamilies can create a great deal of tension and uncertainty. Learn more about this family structure on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.