In Britain on 14th Feb, 2009, Alfie Patten, who was only 13, and his girlfriend, Chantelle Stedman, a then 15-year-old, became the proud parents of a baby girl. He is barely four feet tall and looks even younger than his 13 years. When asked what he will do financially, Alfie – whose voice has not yet broken – replies: ‘What’s “financially”?’
The case of Alfie Patten seems to have provoked quite a bit more coverage on the topic of teenage pregnancy. As The Guardian reported recently, such reports aren’t always quite as simple as they seem.
Teenage pregnancy is defined as a teenage or underage girl (usually within the ages of 13-17) becoming pregnant. The term in everyday speech usually refers to women who have not reached legal adulthood, which varies across the world, who become pregnant.
However, let us look back into the past. In the past, giving birth to babies at the age of around 16 was a normal thing in most societies. Girls at that time got married sooner than they do today and had normally given birth to at least one baby before 20. Teenage parents would normally get support from their families. When a teenager gave birth to a baby, her family members would help her and teach her how to look after the baby. Today it seems to be different: teenage parents seldom get support from their family members. Most of them choose to either abandon the baby or send it to an adoptive family instead of raising the child by themselves.
Let’s look at teenage pregnancy from the scientific point of view. According to the research done by the The University of Chicago, the eggs produced by teenage women are likely to be healthier than those produced by an older woman. According to the same research, babies born by teenage women are more long-lived then those born by women aged over 25.
Nowadays, we know that there are many things that we should take account of when we decide to raise a baby, like the psychological situation of the parents and their ability to raise the children. When teenagers nowadays accidentally get pregnant, they often do not know what to do as they haven’t learn about it as part of their modern upbringing. They simply do not know how to look after the child.
This leaves us with a question. Why was teenage pregnancy considered moral in the past but immoral nowadays?
People in the past considered having a child very important, as it meant that their family would have an heir. They had no problem with teenage pregnancy because they needed a child to inherit the family’s property. The difference was people got married younger and extended families were better equipped in time and knowledge to look after babies and their young mothers. As society has modernised, women have entered the workplace, healthcare for babies has improved and the cost of raising children has increased, teenagers having babies is no longer a socially acceptable – or economically sensible – approach.
Communication and education remain the most effective ways of preventing teenage pregnancy. Even if knowledge of contraception is available, most teenagers lack critical thinking and decision-making abilities to foresee the far-reaching consequences of their actions. Teenagers are often not only unaware about the methods of birth control but are without any clue about how to tackle pressure from peer groups who may be pressurizing them into having sex before they are ready. Schools, as well as teaching abstinence, can discuss available birth control measures, how to handle peer pressure and how these are to be used to avoid unwanted pregnancy.