ERIC Identifier: ED316615
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Bempechat, Janine - And Others
Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
Teenage Pregnancy and Drug Abuse: Sources of Problem Behaviors.
ERIC/CUE Digest No. 58.
Many at-risk children manifest behaviors that are both a cause and result of
their lack of success in school, and possible subsequent dropping out. Two such
behavior patterns that can sabotage the future of students are discussed below.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE
It is important to note that "use"
and "abuse" of drugs and alcohol cannot always be viewed as synonymous (Donovan
& Jessor, 1985). Use may precede, but may not necessarily lead to, abuse.
Determining quantity or even frequency of use alone cannot adequately measure
this distinction. More useful criteria may include age of onset, physiological
responses, levels of dependence, attitudes about substance use, and its effects
on other areas of functioning (Newcomb & Bentler, 1989). Substance use and
abuse may have different etiologies and may require different prevention
strategies (Hawkins, Lishner, Catalano, & Howard, 1986). Further, they often
occur along with other problem behaviors that should also be targeted for
Some predictors of drug and alcohol experimentation, use, and abuse are
Family Factors. Parental drug use is correlated with initiation of use of
many substances as is parental use of alcohol and other legal drugs. The role of
environmental and genetic influences on substance use is difficult to assess,
although it is probable that genetic factors contribute more to abuse than to
use of drugs (Newcomb & Bentler, 1989). Family risk factors include parental
absence, inconsistent discipline, hypocritical morality, poor communication,
parental conflicts, and family breakup. However, Newcomb & Bentler (1988)
found that family disruption per se may not directly lead to drug use; rather,
family problems may lead to disenchantment with traditional values and the
development of deviant attitudes, which may in turn lay the foundation for
Early Antisocial Behavior. Jessor and Jessor (1978) explained drug use as one
outcome of "proneness to problem behavior" and as part of a larger syndrome of
deviance in which a wide range of "problem behavior" shared common precipitants.
School Factors. A range of school problems--reflected in failure, poor
performance, truancy, placement in a special class, early dropping out, and a
lack of commitment to education--have been viewed as common antecedents to
initiation, use, and abuse of drugs (Jessor & Jessor, 1978).
However, school problems themselves may not lead to drug use; rather, social
factors which lead to poor school performance may be linked to drug involvement.
Peer Factors. Association with drug-using peers is perhaps the most strongly
supported predictor of adolescent substance use (Hawkins et al., 1986). Newcomb
& Bentler (1989) suggest that modeling drug use, providing substances, and
encouraging use are the salient components of peer influence. Other researchers
have suggested that the influence of parents and peers is varied and
Attitudes, Beliefs, and Personality Traits. Attitudes, beliefs, and
personality traits most closely linked with substance use include attenuated
attachment to parents, lack of commitment to education, low religiosity, and
alienation from dominant societal norms and values (Hawkins et al., 1986).
Substance Use as a Response to Stress. Newcomb & Harlow (1986) studied
substance abuse in adolescents as a response to a perceived loss of control, a
sense of meaninglessness, and a lack of direction in life. Teenagers may use
drugs as a means of temporarily alleviating discomfort connected to life events
which they perceive as being out of their control, and can be seen as
contributing significantly to an understanding of the higher incidence of drug
use among low SES teenagers and those from disrupted families (Newcomb &
Teen pregnancy has become a national
epidemic, in part because more and more teenagers who give birth decide to keep
and raise their children. There is a great cost to individuals, families, and
society when children have children of their own.
In the United States today about 12 million teenagers are sexually active.
The average age of initiating sexual activity is 16 years (Black and DeBlassie,
1985), although in some cities, such as New York, the average age of first
intercourse is 11.6 years for black youth, 14.5 for white youth and 12.8 for
Hispanic youths (Finkel & Finkel, 1983).
In actual numbers, more white than minority teenagers become pregnant, but
disadvantaged minority youth account for a disproportionate number of teen
pregnancies and births in the United States. While 27 percent of the teenage
population is composed of minorities, they account for 40 percent of adolescent
pregnancies and births (Edelman, 1988). Disadvantaged youth are three to four
times more likely to give birth out of wedlock than are more advantaged teens
Expectations for the Future. Teenagers who see options in their future are
more likely to delay pregnancy and childbirth than those who lack hope.
Poor Academic Achievement. There is a strong association between poor school
achievement and pregnancy, and poor academic ability may influence the onset of
sexual activity and early parenthood (Children's Defense Fund, 1986). A study
conducted by Northeastern University revealed that females 16 years of age or
older with poor basic skills are 2.5 times more likely to be mothers than their
peers with average basic skills. Males with poor academic skills who were 16
years and older were three times more likely to be fathers than their peers with
average academic skills. High educational aspirations, better than average
grades, internal locus of control, and high SES are positively related to
Ignorance About Reproduction. Misunderstandings, false assumptions, and
ignorance surrounding reproduction play a large role in teen pregnancy. The
belief that pregnancy can't result from the initial act of intercourse is
Family Influences. Teen pregnancy is associated with low parent education
(Shah, Zelnik, & Katner, 1975). Girls who get pregnant often have mothers
who gave birth in their teens. Parents of teen mothers and fathers are often
considered by their teens to have "permissive attitudes" regarding premarital
sex and pregnancy (Robinson, 1988). There are also cultural differences in the
value placed on having children. Thompson (1980) found that among 300
adolescents (150 white and 150 black), blacks expressed stronger beliefs than
whites that children promote greater personal security, marital success, and
approval of others.
CONSEQUENCES OF TEENAGE CHILDBEARING
Health. Girls under 16
are five times more likely to die during or immediately after pregnancy than
women 20 to 24. Their infants have a higher incidence of toxemia, anemia,
nutritional deficiencies, low birthweight, and retardation than infants of older
women (Black & DeBlassie, 1985).
Education. More than one fifth of all girls who drop out of school do so
because they are pregnant. No more than 50 percent of teenage parents eventually
graduate from high school.
Employment. Teen parents are also more likely to have difficulties getting
appropriately paying jobs. More than one half of the money invested in Aid to
Families with Dependent Children goes to families with a mother who first gave
birth when she was a teenager (Black & DeBlassie, 1985).
Recently, public attention has been focused on
the need to teach disadvantaged children more successfully. However, it is also
necessary for schools--and for families, and society in general--to help these
children refrain from engaging in problem behaviors, both those discussed above
and the other destructive activities. Such intervention, difficult and
controversial though it is, can be the crucial first step in an education reform
program that truly meets the needs of at-risk students.
Black, C., & DeBlassie, R. (1985).
Adolescent pregnancy: Contributing factors, consequences, treatment, and
plausible solutions. Adolescence, 20, 281-289.
Children's Defense Fund. (1986). Preventing adolescent pregnancy: What school
can do. Washington, D.C.: Authors.
Donovan, J., & Jessor, R. (1985). Structure of problem behavior in
adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
Edelman, M.W. (1988). Preventing adolescent pregnancy: A role for social work
services. Urban Education, 22, 496-509.
Finkel, M.L., & Finkel, D.J. (1983). Male adolescent sexual behavior, the
forgotten partner: A review. Journal of School Health, 53, 544-546.
Hawkins, J.D., Lishner, D.M., Catalano, R.F., & Howard, M.O. (1986).
Childhood predictors of adolescent substance abuse: towards an empirically
grounded theory. Journal of Children and Contemporary Society, 8, 11-47.
Jessor, R., & Jessor, S.L. (1978). Theory testing in longitudinal
research on marijuana use. In D. Kandel (Ed.), Longitudinal research on drug
use. Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.
Newcomb, M.D., & Bentler, P.M. (1989). Substance use and abuse among
children and teenagers. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association,
Newcomb, M.D., & Harlow, L.L. (1986). Life events and substance use among
adolescents. Mediating effects of perceived loss of control and meaninglessness
in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 564-577.
Robinson, B.E. (1988). Teenage fathers. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Shah, F., Zelnik, M., & Katner, J. (1975). Unprotected intercourse among
unwed teenagers. Family Planning Perspectives, 7, 39-44.
Thompson, K.S. (1980, February). A Comparison of black and white adolescents'
beliefs about having children. Journal of Marriage and the Family.