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Education of the Pregnant Teen

January 12, 2008

Via Katie Allison Granju, I learned that girls in the Denver public school system are advocating for maternity leave for teen mothers during which they would be expected to keep up with their classwork, and would not begin accruing the unexcused absences (which presumably can lead to suspensions and expulsion) they currently receive if they don’t return to school they day after they are discharged from the hospital following birth. Predictably, the girls are meeting resistance from those who worry that accommodations will encourage more teen pregnancies, or simply don’t understand birth or are prejudiced against these young mothers. One advocate for the change was told, “You can’t have maternity leave. If you have your baby on Wednesday, you better be back on Thursday.” This obviously allows the young mothers no time to bond with their newborns, physically recover, establish breastfeeding, or adjust to their new status as parents.

Katie responds with an excellent essay, “In Defense of the Pregnant Prom Queen,” in which she argues:

“The answers to these important issues are to not condemn and stigmatize mothers who are teens, but instead to work toward a society where every woman, young and old, has access to health education and health care, as well as the confidence and right to control her own body. And our schools must accommodate the fact that some students are parents, and offer the same flexibility that mothers who work have begun demanding of employers in recent years. Parenthood shouldn’t automatically signal an end to educational opportunities for young women.”

This seems to me to be a not insurmountable goal. In my public high school, girls who became pregnant were placed on homebound studies, with a tutor who brought them their coursework and helped them keep up academically. My state, Tennessee, has actually codified this practice, including in law the provision that “In order to reduce the dropout rate among such students, each LEA (local education agency) shall offer each pregnant student three (3) hours of homebound instruction per week throughout a six-week period of maternity leave.”

My school also provided (quel horror!) onsite childcare during school hours, while requiring the moms to essentially enroll in a childcare course for one of their classes, spending time learning how to care for their and other children (essentially putting some sweat equity into the services provided to them). For those who dismiss teen moms as being irresponsible, lazy, uneducated, bad parents, ad nauseum, this seems like a reasonable solution. You don’t want them on welfare? Help them continue their educations, and learn to be good parents in the process.

One commenter on the RMN story asked, “Do these girls realize that if they were enrolled in college and pregnant, they would not get maternity leave? Do they realize that at most non-professional (and professional) jobs they would not get paid maternity leave?” There a couple of potential problems with these questions as a “real world” objection to leave for high school students. The first is whether it’s appropriate and beneficial to society in general for it to be the case that college students would not get leave and workers cannot get paid maternity leave. I can certainly see a woman needing to take a semester off from college, given the intensive discussion-based or lab-based nature of many college classes, and the speed at which crucial information is provided. I don’t think, however, that that is truly the case in many public high school classrooms. Given my own public high school experience, I believe I could have easily kept up for a semester, even in my advanced classes, with an appropriate homebound service. Many people also advocate for paid maternity leave akin to what other nations provide, so the absence of such does not mean that it is not a goal worth working toward. Additionally, if these teens don’t complete high school – if they become discouraged about completing their educations, if they are ostracized instead of supported – they may never make it to the college or workplace situation about which the commenter worries.

Ultimately, we generally prefer teen girls not to become pregnant so they can go on to complete their educations and earn meaningful incomes, becoming independently functioning adults. And yet, we know that, every single year, many girls *will* become pregnant. The CDC recently reported that in 2002, teenagers 15-19 years old gave birth to 425,000 babies. They also reported 6,722 births to girls under 15 in 2005. It’s a fine goal to want to decrease teen pregnancy, but we also have to deal appropriately with those teens who become mothers, right now, and discouraging them from completing their educations is unlikely to be a good solution for the girls, their children, or society in general.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2008 8:57 pm

    Teen mothers SHOULD get maternity leave.

  2. January 14, 2008 5:24 am

    This is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Why not give these girls maternity leave?

    It’s more of the same “you’re not a family unless you are a family like my family” bullshit. You know, unless you are white, 32, professional and in a heterosexual marriage you are not entitled to the benefits of being a family.

    I’m not all excited about teenagers being pregnant, but denying teen mothers maternity leave from school seems to be cutting off our noses to spite our faces. If they don’t get maternity leave, then they may as well just drop out. Then they do what they know how to do, which is have babies. So they have more babies and end up on public assistance.

    It’s just stupid.

  3. snikta permalink
    January 14, 2008 8:54 am

    Well said, Rachel. And Katherine.

    I know that J would not have been able to go back to school for 7 hours a day starting two days after having this baby. And she did a whole lot better this time around. With C, she could barely move for over a week, and couldn’t stay on her feet long for a month. The physical requirements of a day of high school would have been impossible. Not to mention the horrible detriment this would pose to the development of the mother/child relationship. BTW- what are they supposed to do with their children during this time? Around here you will not find any child care facility who will accept an infant younger than six weeks. I don’t know if TCA requires that they wait until that age or not, but it is standard practice.

  4. January 14, 2008 6:19 pm

    Snikta, that’s a good point about child care. And Kat, exactly.

  5. January 15, 2008 5:18 pm

    It’s not really maternity leave. It’s a maternity adjustment. They still have to keep up with homebound support. So, not leave at all.

    All I had to do was watch daytime TV on my maternity leave (oh and take care of a baby, recover and stuff). But then again, I finished high school a long time ago.

    I’m being flip – I know. But really I don’t get why people are just so darned mean about these things. Punish those girls and their babies. Why not just embroider a scarlet letter on their chests?

  6. January 15, 2008 6:55 pm

    “Why not just embroider a scarlet letter on their chests?” – You’re exactly right – that’s the attitude behind this, and is just mean.

  7. teenpregnancyiswrong permalink
    February 23, 2008 5:55 pm

    Sorry, I disagree. Every teens should KNOW better not to get pregnants. And shouldn’t have maternity leave. Try talking to younger teens abt not learning from older pregnant peers. Won’t work, they will learn and get them what they want. Maternity leave encourages many teens to get pregnant and enjoy the special cards.

    Sorry but I’m again teen pregnancy. They will not be successful. We have many teen moms here and they didn’t want to go back to high schools, some also have problems with families who cannot support them so they can go back to schools. Some believe they can get welfare because of word of mouths and look at them. They’re stuck.

    They’re greeds for the money because we parents believe the budgets and teach the values, teens don’t care. I saw one teen mom bought expensive cellphone, clothes, because of the welfare systems they can get from adult relatives. Sheesh! One generation to another and it is getting worse. I never have seen the proud young grandmothers thinking it’s okay for teens to have babies. Because they were teen moms themselves. *shaking my head*

    Angry mom

    • May 10, 2009 10:15 pm

      I was 17 when I got pregnant with my daughter, I also graduated with a 3.91 grade point average. I am currently taking my nursing prerequisites at a local community college. You sound really damn ignorant. NO parent wants to see their teen become pregnant, but if it does happen, that doesn’t mean that they will become a failure. My Mother wasn’t a teen when she got pregnant and neither was her mother. And by the way, I’ve worked hard for my money, and even if I did receive public assistance, that doesn’t mean that I would spend that money on crap. You’ve let one person’s situation bias your opinion about teen mothers as a whole, and that’s not right. Would you want someone to judge your pregnant teenage daughter as harshly as you’ve judged others? I think not. Maternity leave is not a special card, it’s giving these girls the opportunity to excel in school regardless of the fact that they have children at a young age. Show some compassion and stop being an ice queen!

    • Rachel permalink
      April 9, 2010 4:05 pm

      Yeah I have to agree with the teen mom above who went through it. I have a family friend who had her daughter when she was only 16. She still graduated in the top of her high school class with honors, and got an associates degree from a local college….Just because some teen mom’s can’t do it, doesn’t mean they are all doomed to fail or something….Oh, and our friend, she wasn’t on welfare or anything either, and she still isn’t. Yes, teen pregnancy is a problem, and some teen moms don’t get through their education, but you shouldn’t be trashing all teen moms.

  8. February 23, 2008 7:03 pm

    The fact of the matter is that teenagers are going to get pregnant. Sure, we can probably try to reduce that, but the rate, I predict, will never be 0%. What’s better for those who do get pregnant, and their children? Finishing their education, and having time to recover and learn to care for and bond with their infants, or dropping out because they weren’t able to do those things?

  9. Kristy permalink
    April 3, 2008 12:11 pm

    Teenprenancyiswrong
    How can you talk about teen moms not caring about taking care of thier child. Going to school and getting an education is part of creating a stable environment for a child. Without an education in today’s society it’s extremely difficult to find ANY job. Maternity leave would be great for the teen mom who wants to finish with her education. Let’s talk about FMLA…this act enables any female the right to have 6 weeks leave for the birth of her child. So how is it fair for women in the workforce to have the time off and not women in school. Shouldn’t we as a society give them a chance to succeed instead of making them quit, get expelled or whatnot from and then society has to pay for them to be on welfare…how is this helpful in our hard ecomonic times. Give the girls a chance to succeed. A child no matter what is a gift…if you were a loving and understanding person you would know that.

  10. Emmy560 permalink
    June 14, 2008 9:34 pm

    Check this out….our teens can surprise us.

  11. frankie permalink
    August 13, 2008 6:56 pm

    i am a pregnant teen. to all of you who “think” you’re right about values and not deserving education and all that bullshit you don’t know what you are even talking about. if you’re daughter got pregnant you can’t tell me that you would’nt change your mind. it’s not like every teenage mom plans on getting pregnant, it just happens. i am taking responsibility for my actions and choosing to raise this baby. i am still going to college and getting an education. i plan on following my dreams of becoming a journalist. to all of you that don’t know what you’re talking about, just stop talking.

    • June 30, 2011 12:43 pm

      she is right. just shut up people and let them be. its their decision not youhrs stop bitching over somebody elses life.

  12. August 13, 2008 6:57 pm

    Frankie, thank you for your comment, and best of luck.

  13. ... permalink
    September 9, 2008 8:56 pm

    I have a hard time understanding when pregnant teens say they “didn’t plan on getting pregnant, it just happens’” because that statement doesn’t make sense. Pregnancy doesn’t just happen. If you have sex, that means you are ready to get pregnant. If you are not planning to have a baby, then don’t have sex!

    Besides that ridiculous comment, I do agree with a time adjustment period for new teen moms. I think they need time to re coop and bond and feed their new baby. I think they should have to keep up with their school work at home, and make up all the work when they come back. Some teens may have to go to high school an extra semester to finish up.

  14. September 9, 2008 9:34 pm

    Well, according to the CDC, one half of all pregnancies in the United States (including those among adult and married women) are unintended – a lot of people don’t “plan” to get pregnant, even those who are more socially accepted to be having sex. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/UnintendedPregnancy/index.htm

  15. December 5, 2008 1:39 pm

    should finsh school

  16. Kaylee permalink
    July 7, 2011 11:01 am

    I am 15 and pregnant,I am worriedabout a lot of things,butmmy education is one big one.Can anyone help me with how to do this without paying a lot.Thank You

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