New Zealand has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world, with about 50 teenage girls in every 1,000 falling pregnant. Of these pregnancies, about half of them result in abortion, meaning there are upwards of 3,800 babies born to teenage parents in New Zealand every year.
This pregnancy rate puts us behind the United States, but at a similar level to that of England and Wales. European countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Denmark are considerably lower.
Many people have theories as to why our pregnancy rate is so high, but it seems that there is no one conclusion. Social indicators such as employment rates, welfare systems and housing have all been tested alongside teenage pregnancy, but while these indicators have changed dramatically in the last 20 years, New Zealand’s teenage pregnancy trend has remained fairly static.
While reasons for our national status are continually debated, there are definite trends within New Zealand which highlight ‘at risk’ teenagers. It is widely acknowledged that children who were born to teenage parents are more likely to become teenage parents themselves, and that teenagers in low socio-economic groups are also more at risk. Maori and Pacific Island teenagers have a higher fertility (completed pregnancy) rate than European, and their abortion rate is higher also. There are of course teenagers who fall pregnant outside of the ‘high risk’ groups, and questions about sex education and self-esteem come in to play.
While no one can pinpoint exactly why New Zealand has a high teenage pregnancy rate, what is agreed upon is the effect that pregnancy and parenthood has on teenagers themselves. While many of these issues are starting to be addressed in NZ, teenage pregnancy is still not an easy road.
Some of the main issues or problems faced by teenage parents include:
Disruption to their Education
Juggling study with parenting is difficult, no matter what the circumstance, but for teenagers who fall pregnant while still at school, even basic level education can be difficult to maintain. While the introduction of teen parent’s schools has helped address this issue, teenage parents still suffer disruption to their education during pregnancy and in the months following their child’s birth. In areas where there is no teen parent’s school available, education for teen parents is difficult, and while some continue their education through correspondence or other forms of distance learning, many simply drop out all together.
Reduced Earning Potential
When teen parents eventually enter the workforce, their earning potential can be hindered by their disrupted education, and their apparent lack of work experience compared to other people the same age. This sets up a cycle of poverty or financial dependence.
Being Emotionally Unprepared for Parenting
Let’s face it – nobody is ever emotionally prepared for parenting, but teenagers are even more at risk. For the most part, teenagers think the world revolves around them and are still learning to be responsible for themselves, let alone someone else. The sudden, and usually unplanned, responsibility of parenting forces them to mature faster than they naturally would, and the natural process of growing up is put into high gear.
In addition to the normal emotions that prospective parents feel, teenage parents have a rollercoaster of issues to deal with – particularly if the pregnancy is unplanned or they have little support.
Judgement from Parents and Family Members
Some teenage parents are lucky enough to have the support of their family, but this isn’t always the case. For some, judgement from their parents or family members means that they go through this difficult time with little, if any, support.
While older parents get to celebrate their pregnancy and the birth of a child, many teenage parents miss out on the celebration because they are busy ‘dealing with it’ or making the most of their ‘mistake’.
Loss of Social Contact with Peers
Your teenage years are a time of socialising and building friendships, but the responsibility of parenting means many teenage parents lose all social contact with their peers. While friends may visit in the short term, the inability to just drop everything and go means that friendships change. Many teenage parents feel like they no longer fit in with their peers, but because of their age, they don’t fit in with other parents either. Teenage parent schools or support groups are a great resource for teenage parents to meet people in a similar situation.
Lack of Financial Security
Becoming a parent while you are still a teenager means you haven’t had the chance to build any financial security or back-up for when the going gets tough. Whether the teenage parent is on a benefit, or manages to find employment, they simply live week to week with little chance of getting ahead, and a very real risk of falling behind.
Lack of Support from their Partner
Parents of all ages face the risk of an unsupportive partner, but for teenage parents the risk is even higher. Even if both the mother and father do take responsibility for the pregnancy, most of these relationships eventually end in separation.
Teenage parents truly are a special group of people, with a unique set of issues and needs. While they may not have planned their pregnancy, most step up to the mark and make the most of their sudden twist in fate. Teenage parents may not have age or wisdom on their side, but they have determination, resourcefulness, and the same love for their child that any parent feels.
It is easy to judge teenage parents for their ‘mistake’, but it takes a strong and wise community to realise that children are a gift, no matter how old the parent may be. It really does take a village to raise a child.
Find out about Support for Teen Parents