These number from Halifax and Brunswick counties are alarming not only because of the high correlation between teen pregnancy and dropping out of school, but also because the interrelationship between educational proficiency and teenage pregnancy. For example, only "forty-one percent of teenagers who begin families before age 18 ever complete high school." (the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2006). Furthermore, "parenthood is a leading cause of high school drop out among teen girls." (the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2006). Finally, "only about 2% of teen mothers have a college degree by age 30." (the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2006). What seems clear is that teenage mothers are unlikely to finish their secondary educations and dramatically less likely to pursue post-secondary education than their non-parenting counterparts. Clearly, these teenage mothers are likely to remain financially disadvantaged, because there is a clearly established relationship between education and financial security.
However, the relationship between teen pregnancy and dropping out of school is not directly causal, and it would be patently incorrect to say that teen pregnancy causes girls to drop out of school. On the contrary, a "recent study found that approximately fifty percent of first-time teen mothers under 18 had dropped out did so before they were pregnant; the other half dropped out after becoming pregnant." (the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2006). Furthermore, "educational failure is a key predictor of teen pregnancy." (the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2006). Therefore, it becomes clear that while teen pregnancy is very highly correlated to dropping out of secondary education, it is not as clear whether one of them contributes to the other, or whether additional variables contribute to a greater likelihood of teen pregnancy and a greater likelihood of dropping out.
History and Background of the Problem
Teenage pregnancy is one of the most difficult social problems to assess and control. Unlike other social problems, like drug abuse, teenage pregnancy does not involve something that is inherently bad. On the contrary, pregnancy and motherhood can be extremely positive experiences. Moreover, even for pregnant teenagers, there are some aspects of pregnancy and motherhood that can be very rewarding. Despite the fact that parenting has its own rewards, the fact remains that a teenage pregnancy is highly correlated with a lack of success in adult life. Pregnant teenagers are less likely to complete their secondary education and go on to college than their non-pregnant peers. Furthermore, pregnant teenagers are more likely to live in poverty during adulthood than their non-pregnant peers. These factors are not necessarily related to maternal age, and might more properly be labeled a function of unwed maternity. However, re-labeling the problem will not decrease the correlation between teen pregnancy and a wide variety of negative life consequences. Obviously, these consequences can turn an otherwise positive event into a grave social problem, and teenage mothers and their children can feel the impact of a teenage pregnancy for generations after the pregnancy.
The reality of pregnancy and parenting, regardless of the age of the parents, is that parenting is extremely difficult and time-consuming work. This fact is especially true when parenting an infant, and mothers are biologically and socially conditioned to provide the majority of the constant attention demanded by an infant. Therefore, the realities of teen parenthood have a disproportionate impact on teenage mothers, even when the father is actively involved in the pregnancy and with raising the child. Furthermore, the lack of support for teenage mothers in the educational community often places these young women in the position of choosing between best parenting practices, such as breastfeeding and attachment parenting, or pursuing their diplomas, because they are unable to do both at the same time. Socio-cultural influences and biology may combine to make it more likely that young women will choose motherhood over education, when and if they perceive that they are being asked to make such a choice. Given that many school districts have absence policies that prevent matriculation after a certain number of absences, mothers who choose to stay home with sick children or who miss school because of gaps in childcare may feel as if they are pressured into making such a decision, even if they are never formally asked to do so.
Historically, young women have not always had to choose between future success and young motherhood. On the contrary, teen pregnancy and young motherhood have been constants in all societies, including American society. What has undergone a dramatic change is not the incidence rate of teen pregnancies, but the sociological and cultural atmosphere surrounding those pregnancies. The most dramatic social change to impact the landscape of teenage pregnancy was the increase of the average age of marriage. While large numbers of teenagers have historically been mothers, they have done so within the bounds of marriage. The institution of marriage has a practical and dramatic impact on the costs of parenthood: when parents are married, a father is more likely to participate, both financially and emotionally, in the lives of his children. The recent teen pregnancy problem is characterized as a problem because it reflects a "rise in childbearing outside of marriage." (Farber, 2003). This unwed motherhood has dramatic social consequences; unmarried teenage pregnancies are believed to cost approximately $7 billion per year in America. (Farber, 2003). Therefore, it is important to realize that teenage pregnancy's negative social impact is largely financially based, because the majority of teenage pregnancies result in families being supported by only one parent.
However, another significant social change has also helped determine the impact of teenage pregnancy on the social landscape, and on the teenage mother; society has continued to raise its definition of adulthood. Even as the culture shoves adult sexuality down the throats of prepubescent and early adolescent girls, it has also created a culture of youth. While eighteen has been the official age of adulthood in America for many years, that number is not the only one to indicate when a child is considered an adult. The age of consent, driving ages, the age at which one can legally obtain employment, the age of graduation, and the age for legal drinking all send signals about when a child is considered an adult in American society. That age has slowly crept upwards. For example, fewer teenage mothers may complete their educations in modern times than in historical times due to the fact that "by the mid-1800s both boys and girls usually had completed their education at age 15 or 16, so pregnancy did not endanger an adolescent's educational attainment as it does today." Therefore, modern teenage mothers confront a social environment with multiple personalities; modern teenagers face greater pressure to engage in sexualized behavior than prior generations of teenagers, but are, at the same time, less prepared to deal with the realities of adult life than any recent prior generation of American teenagers.
Scope of the Action Research Project
The scope of the action research project is not aimed at reducing the incidence of teen pregnancy, but to examine the impact of peer intervention on the dropout rate of teenage mothers during the early post-partum period. The project aimed to determine whether pre-delivery matching of pregnant teenagers would have an immediate impact on their dropout rates. The research participants include a subset of pregnant teenagers from the high schools and middle schools in Halifax County, North Carolina, and the high schools and middle schools in Brunswick County, Virginia. It also includes a matched, non-pregnant peer mentor from the same class as each pregnant teen.
Importance of the Action Research Project
The action research project is important because it seeks to discover whether peer-led intervention can prevent teenage mothers from dropping out of secondary education. Peer-led interventions are less expensive than many other methods of intervention, because they do not require paid adult mentors. On the contrary, in these peer-led interventions, the peer interveners only need to complete basic crises counseling training, which is relatively inexpensive to provide. If they require additional assistance, the peers can go to the school counselors who are already assigned to assist the pregnant teenagers. In addition, the use of peer interveners should solve resource issues, because there is a far larger pool of possible peer interveners than there are pregnant teenagers. If peer-led interventions are proven to be successful in lowering the drop-out rate, they could be quickly and affordably implemented throughout schools in Halifax and Brunswick Counties.
Definition of Terms
Dropout: The term dropout has several different meanings, which are sometimes used interchangeably throughout the literature. It can refer to the longitudinal dropout rate, annual dropout rates, attrition rates, and any other indicator that a teenager is leaving the educational environment without attaining a high school diploma. However, for the purposes of this study, a teenage mother is considered a drop-out if she fails to attend the first week of class of the 2007-2008…