Teen Pregnancy Study Thesis

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Teen Pregnancy Study

Study into the Impact of Parental Communication and Parenting Styles on Teen Pregnancy: Comparison with the Impact of Demographic Variables

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It has been suggested by statistical evidence that teenage pregnancy rates have been declining in recent years, declining by 28% between 1990 and 2002. However, with 750,000 teens still falling pregnant each year (Guttmacher Institute, 2006), teen pregnancy remains a major issue in U.S. public health. The importance of lowering teen pregnancy rates is critical given the negative consequences so often associated with the condition. For example teenage mothers are associated with greater rates of neonatal and infant mortality, and also major neonatal morbidities, when compared with women in the 20 to 29 years age group (Gilbert et al., 2004). In addition, long-term negative psychological consequences are likely to effect the health of mothers who give birth in their adolescent years (Hillis et al., 2004). These health impacts are likely to increase the burden on the public health system in this country. In addition, the economic consequences are likely to be substantial, with teenage mothers less likely to receive a high school diploma, likely to earn less income, and more likely to rely on cash assistance (Fletcher & Wolfe, 2008). Therefore there are clear adverse consequences to individuals, communities, along with those on a national level, resulting from falling pregnant as a teenager. The substantial number of teens who fall pregnant annually would however indicate that our current understanding of the causes of the phenomenon may be insufficient to provide adequate preventative measures. Despite the majority of schools already engaging in some form of sexual education, it would seem that while successful to some extent, it is still failing to completely alleviate the problem.

TOPIC: Thesis on Teen Pregnancy Study Into the Impact of Assignment

In response to the recognition that current methods are not providing required reduction of teen pregnancies, a grant of $500,000 has been awarded on behalf of the National Institute for Mental Health and Planned Parenthood to develop the study. The desire of this body is to develop a study which shows the correlation of communication skills and parenting skills as seen by teens, and their increased impact on the levels of teen pregnancy over race, socioeconomic class and family structure. The rationale behind this is that current programs have already aimed to tackle the causative factors associated with teen pregnancy which have previously been established. If they are failing to completely achieve their aim in preventing teenage pregnancy this would therefore suggest that the main issue may lie in our understanding of the causes of the problem.

It has been established for some time that there are certain demographic variables which may be associated with an increased risk of teen pregnancy, for example socioeconomic disadvantage, low educational expectation (Allen et al., 2007), family type (Bonnell et al., 2006) and race (Guttmacher Institute, 2006). It has however been suggested that some of these factors may be mediated by parenting behavior (Bonnell et al., 2006). A number of the most recent teen pregnancy prevention interventions have focused on establishing education programs including elements aimed at increasing parent-child interaction. Results from studies into the impact which these interventions have had on parent-teen communication have been largely positive (e.g. Green & Documet, 2005; Schuster et al., 2008). It still remains unclear however whether such programs have actually had a positive impact on rates of teen pregnancy, which is after all the main goal of these programs. Establishing a link between parent-teen communication and parenting styles and sexual behavior, specifically including teen pregnancy, is important for understanding the impact which education programs addressing these issues may provide.

II. Literature Review

Previous research has indicated that there may be a direct impact between characteristics of a child's parents and their risk of teen pregnancy. For example it has been shown that being born to a teen mother is a significant risk factor for a child to go and become pregnant during adolescence themselves (Allen et al., 2007). This would therefore indicate that there may be factors associated with parenting style which may have a direct influence on the sexual behaviors of adolescents.

In a telephone survey conducted by Eisenberg et al. (2006), researchers found that most parents reported speaking with their child at least a moderate amount about sex-related topics. They also found that parents who believed that their child was in a romantic relationship were much more likely to discuss sex-related topics than those who did not believe their child was in such a relationship. This research suggested that parents may miss potential opportunities to discuss these topics and therefore influence behavior. In addition, although the survey suggested that most parents did discuss sex-related themes to some extent with their teenage children, no data was gathered to relate this to how much communication teens perceived to take place with their parents.

Aspy et al. (2006) concluded from their study that parent and youth perceptions of communication on sex-related topics largely agreed. It would however appear from the results that there were still some major discrepancies between parents and teens. Only 39% of reports from parents and teens on the level of communication between them on what is right and wrong in sexual behavior agreed. This would therefore indicate that in the majority of families, at 61%, teens and parents have different perceptions over the amount of communication which they have on this issue. What is not clear from this research is whether it is that one party over-estimates the amount of communication which occurs, or whether one provides an underestimation. What the study did reveal was that there were higher levels of abstinence and use of contraception in those families where it was agreed that there was high levels of communication on sex-related topics compared to those where there were lower levels of communication.

A number of other studies in the past have focused on establishing only whether sex-related communication between parents and teens has occurred. A more recent study by Martino et al. (2008) investigated the impact of breadth of topics covered and repetition of information. Using an experimental approach to test the impact of a set of intervention sessions, researchers found that increasing repetition of the subjects covered in communication enabled teens to feel closer to parents and therefore facilitated discussions on sexual behavior. Increasing the breadth of topics covered also reportedly increased the openness with which such conversations could take place. The experimental nature of this study would increase the validity of results, given that it did not rely solely on self-reporting of behavior. The findings of this study would suggest therefore that merely measuring the quantity or frequency of communication which occurs between parents and teens may be insufficient to completely understand its impact on teen pregnancy.

III. Research Question and Statement of Hypothesis

The research question which is to be answered in this study is therefore:

Is parent-teen communication a significant factor in teen pregnancy, and how does it relate as a factor to other established demographic variables which have been established as potential causative factors?"

The study is particularly interested in comparing the impacts of parental communication and parenting style with the demographic variables of race, socioeconomic status and family structure. The hypothesis of the study is that teen pregnancy is influenced more by the levels of communication which teens have with their parents than other demographic variables.

IV. Study Design

Research Design

As Eidenberg et al. (2006) put it, there is likely to be no 'simple' causal relationship between parental communication and teen pregnancy rates (p. 901). Therefore a mixed methods research design is likely to be the most suitable means of investigating the issue, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative aspects. The quantitative methodology is most suited of the two for testing hypotheses. This means that in order to establish a definitive answer to the research question it is necessary to collect some form of quantitative data which can be analyzed by standard statistical methods. However given the apparent complexity of the issue, it is unlikely that this simple overview of causation is likely to be useful in actual application of the findings. Therefore extra information which may allow the research findings to be used in intervention and policy design may be provided through the additional dimensions contributed by qualitative research (Burke Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). Given the preceding research which is available and the identified gaps in the literature, the emphasis in this study will therefore be on the qualitative element, with quantitative data used to support findings and conclusions drawn. In particular, a grounded theory methodology will be employed. This paradigm is focused on deriving meanings and concepts from data based on observations in real settings (Suddaby, 2006). This paradigm is most suited to studying the factors of interest in this study, as it does not rely on applying any form of experimental conditions to the study sample. Instead, conclusions are drawn from observations and data collected relating to the actual lives of the participants.

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