Why do teenagers have kids? Is it planned or accidental? How do they feel about having had kids?
A TV station in Memphis recently reported that 90 girls in one local school were either pregnant or had recently had babies, which adds up to about 180 new young parents, many of them still in need of education. While teen birth rates are dropping, the U.S. still has among the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world.
Time.com, with the help of educational consultant Robert Pondiscio, asked a bunch of students or former students in the South Bronx to talk about the issue from their point of view. Two are already moms or have been pregnant, some have friends who are, one is the single mother of a teen, one is a teen dad. We agreed not to publish their full names.
What we learned is that the stigma of single motherhood had largely been removed, which is a mixed blessing. In many cases, the women interviewed saw teen motherhood as a wonderful thing, but failed to appreciate what economists would call the opportunity cost until they had been mothers for a while. For others it was just something that happened to them and they had to deal with it. The responses also suggest that teenagers are impulsive, naive, not very self-reflective and poor at planning. But we knew that.
Their comments, below:
B, 17, mother of one: “I decided to have kids because it’s just so amazing to watch them grow. It’s an exciting feeling to teach them. I also love the fact that they will always love me no matter what.”
RD, 19, father of one: “Becoming a dad feels great. I feel like it is a good blessing. I love to see my daughter’s smile everyday! I feel my child’s mother and I will be together for a long time, and may even get married. We don’t live together but we are working on getting our own apartment. Since I became a dad most of my friends have kids on the way and they are still in good relationships. Could even get married. Married or not, it doesn’t matter, you can provide the right love and more to a baby. I feel having a kid at a young age can help you become wiser and mature, and want to be more successful. However it depends on the person because if you are a teen who doesn’t do anything for yourself you are not ready.”
A, mother of teenagers: “I think it’s become the norm to grow up in a single-parent home. Somehow I don’t see teenage girls or boys associating having children with having a solid relationship with two responsible parties. I myself worry more about any one of my girls getting an STD or AIDS. Getting pregnant seems almost like a bill of health from the doctor.”
K, 21, mother of two: “My mother taught me about protection, but when teenagers are in the moment they don’t think, they just act. It is real hard being a single mother. I’m no longer with their father. Teenage males aren’t looking for responsibilities at a young age. My mother and sister were also teenage mothers. It’s hard for me to get a job, so now I’m being supported by my mother. Don’t get me wrong, children are the greatest gift you can ever have, but in all honesty it’s pretty hard as a teenage mother. If I had a chance to wait ’til I was stable I would take it.
J, 17, one pregnancy, no kids: “My friends who have babies decided to have the baby because most of them didn’t believe in abortion. If you’re woman enough to make a kid, you’re woman enough to be a mom. Sometimes they just forget to use birth control. Or they just think they wont get pregnant. Because they think if they have a baby, people will look at them as adults. Also they think if they have their own baby, it will be fun.”
T, 19, one pregnancy, no kids: “A lot of teenage girls don’t believe in abortions and neither did I until I became pregnant at the age of 17. A lot of teens nowadays don’t think about how hard life would be once they have the baby, they don’t think about the financial problems they’ll have, how hard it will be to go to school and study once the baby is around. A lot of my friends who have a kid weren’t ready. It was an accident and they’re only doing well because they have their parents’ help. They aren’t living on their own. I didn’t believe in abortions until I was 17 and realized I was still young and couldn’t even support myself. I wasn’t done with school and I was living with my mom and my seven other siblings. Now I believe that I shouldn’t have a baby ’til I’m married and financially stable.”
C, 16, no kids: “A lot of the girls at my school are pregnant. There are just so many and they walk around proudly. Some of the other kids want to touch their bellies and others think they’re stupid. Some girls think of the pregnant girl as a slut or easy. Others admire her and say that it takes a lot to bring a baby into this world. The ones with kids leave them in the [school] nursery, which in my opinion is a good and bad idea to have. No one really talks about the fathers.
I have a god-sister who’s pregnant. She’s 17. She and I were supposed to finish high school, but she got pregnant instead. Now her mother is planning her baby shower. And her sisters are the same story — both had their first kids at 17. One of them is already 26 with four kids.
It’s like a trend or accessory. Other girls see a girl with a baby and say, “It looks so easy, I want one too.” I don’t think it will ever stop. I think that they honestly believe that their mothers will take care of their children, because that’s what grandmothers do. And I think that’s where they get the idea that it’s easy.”