Grandmother disturbed by teenage pregnancy trend


Q. My granddaughter, who is 16, just had a baby. She didn’t want to get pregnant, but it just “happened.” Why are so many girls getting pregnant at such a young age? I’m very disturbed about this trend.

A. According to a 2011 study, nearly half of the pregnancies in the United States were unintended. Obviously, an overwhelming majority of these women were not using any form of contraception.

Research studies indicate many reasons that teen girls are not using protection. Among these reasons are the boyfriend’s objection, fear that use of contraception will anger a male partner, and possible dangers posed by side effects of medications.

As a psychologist, the reason for an unplanned pregnancy that disturbs me most is the belief in “fatalism.” Many girls believe that pregnancy is predestined. According to them, if it is their time to get pregnant, no form of birth control will work. If it not their time to get pregnant, they do not need to use birth control.

Some more religious teens believe that if they have a condom, they planned to have sex. Since they didn’t have a condom, they just got “carried away.” They reason that it is not as sinful to have premarital relations if it is unplanned.

Other studies report that some girls believe they are unlikely to be fertile. As proof, they site that they have engaged in sex several times, but have not become pregnant. One clinic reported that approximately 50 percent of girls had engaged in unprotected intercourse within the last three months. Over 40 percent of these girls did so because they believed they were very unlikely to become pregnant. Their beliefs were not based on any medical evidence.

If you are interested in reading more information about teen pregnancies, I suggest the websites for the Guttmacher Institute, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the publication, Social Science and Medicine.

Q. My son wants to drop out of high school and get his GED. I’m really against this, but he tells me that it will not be a problem in his future. Is that true?

A. First of all, I would like to know why he wants to drop out. Does he need to work? Does he feel he is wasting time? Is he being bullied? Before he drops out, you should have a serious discussion with him, a school counselor, and possibly a mental health professional.

James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has widely studied the differences between students who complete high school with a diploma and those who drop out and get a GED. Heckman found that students who received a GED were just as smart as high school graduates. However, he discovered some important differences between the two groups.

• By age 22, only 3 percent of the GED recipients had received any post-secondary degree or even enrolled in a four year college, compared to 46 percent of high school graduates.

• Students who completed a GED were statistically more likely to have lower incomes and higher unemployment rates.

• Those who received GED’s were more likely to divorce than high school graduates.

• GED recipients were more likely to use illegal drugs than those who completed their secondary education in school.

The traits that make one successful relate to the completion of high school or any educational endeavor. Students who complete their education learn that they must suffer through some boring lectures, learn information they may never use, and delay gratification for a future goal. These lessons are not only valuable in college, but they are important in the workplace and throughout life.

I urge you to talk to your son seriously. There are many successful people who receive a GED; however, there are many more successful people who complete high school.

Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to drnryburn@gmail.com. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all correspondence remains confidential.