Teenage pregnancy is a growing problem of modern times. Teenagers are not mature enough to understand the consequences of their unprotected sexual activities; and hence, they often have to face adverse situations such as teenage pregnancy. Society, most of it if not whole, does not welcome teenage pregnancies, and hence, the problem becomes a social problem where the teenage mothers have to face severe circumstances. The stigma becomes unbearable, and the teenage mother has to work hard if she chooses to keep the child. This paper sheds light on issues related to teenage pregnancy. The thesis statement of the paper is that: More than a personal problem, teenage pregnancy should be considered as a social problem as it results in stigmatization of the involved teenager which affects his/her social outcomes significantly.
Teenage Pregnancy as a Social Problem
What is a Social Problem?
A problem is considered as a social problem if most of the society starts getting affected by it. An immediate solution to such a problem becomes necessary to maintain the integrity of the society and the country. Some social problems are equally undesirable for whole of the society; while, some are undesirable for some groups of people and desirable for the other. Teenage pregnancy is one such problem that may be desirable for some teenagers, but mostly it is unwelcoming for most of the society. According to Gillham (10), some teenagers enjoy being pregnant and look forward to raising the baby despite all the negative consequences they have to go through; however, most of the times the pregnant teenagers have to see adverse circumstances regarding their survival as respectable citizens of the country.
Perspective from C. Wright Mills
American sociologist C. Wright Mills looks into the matter of teenage pregnancy as a social problem. According to C. Wright Mills, “…when personal troubles, such as teenage pregnancy, became recognized as widespread and problematic in society, they become a social problem” (qtd. in Peck and Dolch 95). Mills has introduced the idea of sociological imagination that is the basis of such social problems. Teenagers have weak sociological imagination, due to which they are not able to imagine the relationship between their activities and the social outcomes in the bigger picture. They are not able to evaluate their sexual activities, and hence, end up falling into the dilemma of teenage pregnancy.
Possible Causes that Lead to Teenage Pregnancy
Since the rate of teenage pregnancy has risen considerably in the last years, the issue of morality has come into concern for the socialists. There are a number of social issues that are associated with teenage pregnancy, which include education, employment, politics, and socio-economic status. For example, teenage pregnancy is higher among girls who are the offspring of lone mothers. Also, the girls who suffer from racial discrimination or who belong to the ethnic minorities belonging to lower class or disadvantaged backgrounds are more prone to get indulged in teenage pregnancies. Peer pressure in keeping boyfriends/girlfriends, and encouragement from parents’ side in this regard, is also a major cause for increasing rate of teenage pregnancy.
Effects of Teenage Pregnancy on Social Outcomes
Duncan (307-334) conducted a research on the effects teenage pregnancies have on social outcomes, and found that although teenage pregnancies are considered as a social problem which makes all those involved suffer morally, socially and economically, making them victims of low expectations and guilt; however, in some teenage pregnancies, social outcomes are positive in which the parents feel pride in staying connected with each other and the child. Teenage mothers often describe how their pregnancies and the childbirths have made them feel powerful and respectable. This is the fact also described by Gillham (11) who has mentioned a study in which all the participants (teenage mothers) came from lower socio-economic status with deprived backgrounds and restricted life opportunities, but they felt pleased about their pregnancies and the way the childbirths had molded their lives. Still, effects are mostly adverse. Working mothers have to face social exclusion, for which they need to practice strong mothering practices children (McDermott and Graham).
The Stigma of Teenage Pregnancy
Wilson and Huntington have discussed in their study how the passing decades have stigmatized the teenage pregnant mothers, and what negative social outcomes they suffer from that make them undergo social exclusion and reduced opportunities in education, training and employment. They studied the sufferings of teenage mothers belonging to United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand; and, found that since the society has started seeing teenage pregnancy as a challenging social problem, thus, the lives of teenage mothers are being greatly influenced by this stigma. Wilson and Huntington (59) have asserted in their study that:
…teenage mothers are vilified, not because the evidence of poor outcomes for teen mothers and their children is particularly compelling, but because these young women resist the typical life trajectory of their middle-class peers which conforms to the current governmental objectives of economic growth through higher education and increased female workforce participation.
Teenage Pregnancy and Sociological Theories
The social problem of teenage pregnancy can be analyzed using three sociological theories: Functionalist theory, Symbolic Interactionism, and Social Conflict theory.
According to the functionalist perspective, teenagers are pressurized from the society to bring out their sexualities and develop relationships at an age when they have not yet completed their education and are unemployed. Big credit goes to the mass media which has arose feelings of sexuality in teenagers through advertisements and shows that the teenagers see and fantasize ignoring the fact they are too young for it. Sexual urges cover themselves under the name of love; and as a result, a total demoralization of the society occurs when teenagers consider each other as sexual objects rather than normal citizens. However, early motherhood can also be considered as a positive issue because teen parents also express positive experiences after childbirth, such as psychological fulfillment of raising a child.
People also conceive the notion of teenage pregnancy depending on their ideas and assumptions that they are raised with or have learnt over their lifetime. A teenage girl who is pregnant has to listen to negative remarks and bear bad looks at a public place. People tend to ignore the girl’s morality or the circumstances she had to go through; and, give judgment about her. They do not attach the same stigma to the boy who was equally responsible for the pregnancy. Hence, the pregnant teenage girl might start using external cues like heavy makeup to conceal her real age and to look older than she actually is. Hence, a social interactionist would be interested in studying how a teenage mother experiences judgments and opinions about her from the society which has nothing to do with her circumstances and mental and physical suffering.
Social Conflict Theory
The social conflict theory best describes the social dilemma of teenage pregnancy. The theory explains how teenage pregnancy is a matter of conflict between parents and their pregnant teens, and what effect (positive or negative) this battle of morals has on the lives of the latter. Teenagers are morally and emotionally not ready to accept the responsibilities that come with teenage pregnancies, nor are they morally able to choose their sexual partner or understand the intimacy of the relationship. So, they end up making mistakes like teenage pregnancies. When parents come to know that their teenage son is responsible for a pregnancy, or that their teenage daughter is pregnant, there are very few of them who will actually justify their kid’s intentions and decision about pregnancy. They will make the teenagers enter intro guilt and shame, due to which the teenagers have to choose to live independent lives by leaving their academics and applying for jobs, so that they may be able to support themselves and the upcoming responsibilities. They start living socially excluded lives, because they are not able to bear the stigma that the whole society, including their parents, attaches with their moral standards. This social conflict not only adversely affects the lives of the teenagers, but also creates significant impacts upon the life of the newborn that has to face shameful remarks and stigmatization as he grows up without the name of a father.
The paper discussed the social problem of teenage pregnancy in great detail. Teenagers from low socio-economic status or who are suffering from poverty or racial discrimination are more prone to developing illicit relations at a very young age. Young parents go through social exclusion, ignorance and low expectations due to which they are often not enjoying goof life standards as their peers. However, researchers have found in their studies that many young parents are contented with their lives so much so that they want to have more children. Despite this contentment, the bitter truth is that the social problem of teenage pregnancy has put a stigma upon teenage mothers and fathers, due to which they are not able to cope with their lives as young parents very efficiently. Hence, it is proved that more than a personal problem, teenage pregnancy is a social problem that raises some very important concerns for the whole society.
Duncan, Simon. “What’s The Problem With Teenage Parents? And What’s The Problem With Policy?” Critical Social Policy 27.3(2007): 307-334.
Gillham, Bill. The Facts about Teenage Pregnancies. London, Herndon, VA : Cassell, 1997.
McDermott, Elizabeth, and Hilary Graham. “Resilient Young Mothering: Social Inequalities, Late Modernity and the ‘Problem’ of ‘Teenage’ Motherhood.” Journal of Youth Studies 8.1(2005): 59 – 79.
Peck, Dennis L., and Norman Allan Dolch. Extraordinary Behavior: A Case Study Approach to Understanding Social Problems. New York, NY: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.
Wilson, Helen, and Annette Huntington. “Deviant (M)others: The Construction of Teenage Motherhood in Contemporary Discourse.” Journal of Social Policy, 35.1(2006): 59-76.