Teen pregnancies can enhance mums' lives

Teen pregnancies may be frowned upon by society but they can ''enrich and enhance'' the lives of young Kiwi mums, a Canterbury University researcher has found.

New Zealand holds the world's second highest rate of teen pregnancies among developed countries, with thousands of teenagers giving birth every year.

In the year to March 2011, 4374 babies were born to New Zealand teenage mothers, a rate that has remained stable since the 1980s, education researcher Dr Jenny Hindin-Miller said.

There is a ''social stigma'' surrounding teen pregnancies but Hindin-Miller said with good support networks it can provide a life-changing opportunity to young people. 

''Society's view is that this is a problem but it can be a real opportunity as long as there is really good support around these young people and their children. They can become wonderful parents,'' she said.

Hindin-Miller focused on 10 young mothers from a teen parent school in Christchurch for her research. The youngest had fallen pregnant at 14.

Her findings showed teen mothers who had attended a teen parent school were mostly successful educationally but also in other aspects of their lives.

''In fact, their life trajectories appeared not to have been delayed or disadvantaged by becoming parents early,'' she said.

The young mothers ''strongly believed their own lives had been greatly enriched and enhanced by becoming parents and returning to education''.

Often teenage parents had high levels of risk-taking and had disengaged from mainstream schooling before becoming pregnant, but then made ''significant lifestyle changes because they were going to become parents'', she said.

''Becoming pregnant as a teen and re-engaging at a teen parent school can be very positive for these young people.''

Educational achievements at the teen parent school and later on in tertiary education had ''transformed their lives'', she said. 

There are 20 dedicated teen parent schools currently operating around the country and numerous support services including midwives, Plunket, income support workers and education and health services but Hindin-Miller said young parents could benefit from more co-ordinated ''one-stop, wrap-around'' services.

''Young parents need extra support because they are often socially isolated, financially disadvantaged and lacking in support networks. The young women whom I interviewed commonly faced issues of social stigma and prejudice which makes it difficult for them to access appropriate services and support , and contributes to their isolation.''

Appropriate training for frontline staff in how to work respectfully and non-judgementally with teenage parents was also needed, she said.

''Negative attitudes are unhelpful and often inaccurate. Many schools would prefer young pregnant students to leave because it is just too difficult to meet their educational and other needs. Some school authorities still regard them as a bad influence on other students.''

The Press