Recent data indicates that while the number of babies born to U.S. women aged 15-19 years has decreased substantially over the past few years, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is still remarkably high compared to other Western countries (CDC, 2012). In 2014 alone, nearly 250,000 babies were born to teenage women, with Hispanic and non-Hispanic black women showcasing a much higher rate than non-Hispanic white women (CDC, 2012). Research has highlighted a strong correlation between unfavorable socio-economic conditions and teen pregnancy, thus making it clear that teen pregnancy is a multidimensional issue that needs to be approached from multiple perspectives.
First of all, it is important to keep in mind that by the age of 16, most adolescents are capable of thinking abstractly, processing several concepts simultaneously and predicting the most likely effects of their actions. Thanks to their relatively strong logical thinking skills, teenagers aged 16-18 can handle more challenging academic curricula, manage their own time, tell right from wrong and express their thoughts in both verbal and written form in a sophisticated manner. Nevertheless, the self-centered nature of their mental patterns may influence their behavior in a negative manner, causing them to engage in counterproductive actions such as ignoring their studies and socializing with potentially harmful people, to name but a few (Healthwise, 2015). From an emotional viewpoint, teens aged 14 and 15 strive to fit in with their peers, gain new privileges (especially more freedom, regardless of whether they can actually handle it) and feel independent. At 16, most teens have already learned some valuable lessons and feel ready to start a romantic relationship which will probably cause them to spend less time with their friends as they will prefer being with their boyfriends and girlfriends instead. At 17 and 18, most teens are capable of regulating their emotions and may feel both excited and apprehensive about the future. Their fear may either motivate them to set specific goals and work hard to achieve them, or prompt them to take a step back and regress a little.
Provided that peer pressure and a lack of sex education are among the main causes of teen pregnancy, all of the above information about teenagers’ cognitive and emotional development can be used to develop an effective plan aimed at tackling teen pregnancy. Despite being the most effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, abstinence is not a feasible option as many teenagers feel somewhat pressured to have sex with their partners in order to feel more independent and show their peers how mature they are.
With recent statistics indicating that 42% of U.S. teens are sexually active, providing all adolescent with a comprehensive sex education is probably the best way of dealing with teen pregnancy. It is suggested that sex education be taught in every public and private school starting from 6th through 12th grade. Educators should be trained and selected according to a set of national standards and criteria to ensure consistency across schools and states. While educators may be granted a certain degree of freedom and flexibility, it is crucial that a national sex education program should be developed which covers a number of fundamental topics and concepts (e.g. sexuality, the reproductive system, contraception, abstinence, STDs, the risks associated with sexual intercourse, relationships, human development, sexual health and expression, abortion, sexual orientation, masturbation, sex from an emotional perspective and so forth) and involves activities that clearly address peer pressure and help students develop stronger interpersonal, communication, negotiation and refusal skills. Last but not least, all content should be age appropriate and educators should be encouraged to stick to teaching methods that have been proved to be particularly effective within the field of sex education.
- CDC (2016). About Teen Pregnancy. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/about/
Healthwise (2015). Cognitive Development, Ages 15 to 18 Years – Topic Overview. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/children/tc/cognitive-development-ages-15-to-18-years-topic-overview