Risk Factors for Teen Pregnancy

Hispanic teenager crying and holding pregnancy test in bathroom

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Teen pregnancy has declined in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that teen pregnancy is at an historic low in the U.S., but the reason isn't exactly clear.

Some experts suspect that teens today are delaying or reducing their sexual activity. Others believe that teens are becoming more educated about birth control methods and being more proactive about preventing pregnancy.

That said, teen pregnancy does still happen. Although most parents would like to think their teen would never have unprotected sex, teen pregnancy can happen ​in any family.

However, there are certain risk factors that make some teens more likely to become pregnant. As a parent, educating yourself about risk factors can help you support your teen and mitigate the risks.

Individual Risk Factors

Experiencing any of the following may put a teen at a higher risk of becoming pregnant:

  • Ambivalence about having a child
  • Being the victim of sexual abuse
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Having sex at a young age
  • Lack of goals for the future
  • Lack of knowledge about sex or contraception
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative attitude towards using contraception
  • Poor school performance

Social Risk Factors

A teen's friends often play a significant role in their decision to pursue a romantic relationship and become sexually active. Some social risk factors for teen pregnancy include:

  • Dating at an early age
  • Dating older people
  • Friends who are sexually active
  • Poor peer relationships 
  • Pressure from peers to have sex

Family Risk Factors

You can't control everything about your family, but you can address some of the risk factors that might be present within it. Family risk factors that can increase a teen's risk of pregnancy include:

  • Family history of teenage pregnancies 
  • Limited communication between parents and teen
  • Negative family interactions
  • Poor parental supervision
  • Significant unresolved conflict between family members
  • Single-parent families

Preventing Teen Pregnancy

You can't get rid of all the possible risk factors facing your teen, but you can take steps to reduce the likelihood that they will become a parent. The most important thing you can do as a parent is talk to your teen about sex.

Ensure that your teen has the facts about preventing an unplanned pregnancy. Whether your message is one of abstinence or delaying sex until the right time, make sure that you talk to your teen about birth control.

Ongoing conversations about sex are imperative. Most parents think it won't happen in their family, but don't assume that your teen isn't having sex or that they are not interested in romantic relationships.

Talk with your teen about your values and your expectations. If you make it clear that you disapprove of sex during high school, your teen might be less likely to become sexually active.

You should also make it clear that your teen can come to you with any questions or concerns they have. This will help prevent your teen from feeing like they have to hide things from you.

Hold open discussions and allow your teen to ask questions. Most of all, help your teen become a well-rounded individual. Teens with lots of interests, activities, and goals are less likely to become sexually active at an early age.

Don't depend on the sex education programs in your teen's school to teach them everything they need to know about pregnancy and sex.

Many teens still believe common myths like, "I can't get pregnant the first time I have sex."

Establish rules about dating that are meant to keep your teen safe. Make sure your teen is well-supervised. That doesn't mean that you need to chaperone their dates, but you should enforce rules that limit your teen's opportunities to engage in sexual activity.

Keep in mind that technology has changed relationships and romance for teens and adults. Teens spend hours texting and sharing photos online, which can give them a feeling of closeness to someone—even if they do not necessarily spend a lot of time in-person time with them.

Finally, when you take them for their annual wellness appointments, give your teen the chance to speak with their doctor alone. Sometimes, teens who feel hesitant to ask their parents about sex or contraception are more comfortable discussing these topics with a medical professional, counselor, or another trusted adult.

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