Effects Of Adolescent Parenthood On Children
Overall, research shows that children of adolescent parents are at greater risk for health, developmental, and behavioral problems compared to children born to older mothers (e.g., Alonso and Moreno 2000; Maynard 1997). Compared to older mothers, adolescent mothers are more likely to experience pregnancy and delivery problems and have less healthy babies overall (e.g., low birth weight, high infant morbidity), but these negative health consequences are becoming less common in industrialized countries because of increased health services for young mothers. Few differences in cognitive functioning are found in infancy, but small and consistent differences are detected in preschool children that continue into middle childhood. Also, preschool children of adolescent mothers tend to show more behavior problems (e.g., aggressive, less self-control) than children of older mothers, a finding especially pronounced for boys. During adolescence, problems begin to show up, such as grade failure, delinquent acts, and early sexual activity and pregnancy.
Research finds that the health of infants is affected more by family background characteristics (e.g., race, residence, mother's education) and mother's health-related behavior (e.g., smoking, drinking, prenatal care) than by mother's age (Geronimus and Korenman 1993; Roy et al. 1999). Other factors that place these offspring at greater risk include the adverse social and economic effects associated with early parenthood, the emotional immaturity of a younger mother, and less experienced and/or less adequate parenting. Although adolescent mothers tend to be as warm toward their young child as older mothers, research shows that they are less verbal, sensitive, and responsive, provide a less stimulating home environment, perceive their infants as being more difficult, and have more unrealistic expectations (Coley and Chase-Lansdale 1998). Fewer differences are typically found when adolescent mothers are compared to mothers in their early twenties who also live in poverty (e.g., Lacroix et al. 2001). Also, differences are typically not found in infant health outcomes of unmarried versus married adolescent mothers. Despite consistent evidence of greater risk, findings show more variability in whether children exhibit these problem behaviors and that many children develop normally.
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