Risk Factors for Teen Pregnancy

Hispanic teenager crying and holding pregnancy test in bathroom

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Fortunately, teen pregnancy has declined in the United States over the past few years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports teen pregnancy is at an historic low, but the reason isn't exactly clear.

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

But teen pregnancy does still happen. And while most parents would like to think their teen would never have unprotected sex during adolescence, it can happen ​in any family.

There are certain risk factors however that make some teens more likely to become pregnant than others. Educating yourself about those risk factors can help you take steps to mitigate the risks.

Individual Risk Factors

Teens who experience any of the following may be at a higher risk of teenage pregnancy:

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

Social Risk Factors

A teen's friends can play a big role in the decision to become sexually active. Here are some social risk factors to be on the lookout for:

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

Family Risk Factors

While you can't always control everything about your family, you can take steps to address some risk factors. Here are the risk factors that could put your teen at risk of teenage pregnancy:

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

Preventing Teen Pregnancy

Even if you can't get rid of all the risk factors your teen may face, you can take steps to reduce the likelihood your teen will become a parent while still in high school. The most important thing you can do is talk to your teen about sex.

No matter whether your message is one of abstinence, or delaying sex until the right time, talk about birth control. Make sure your teen has the facts about how to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.

Whether you have a son or a daughter, ongoing conversations about sex are imperative. Don't assume your teen isn't having sex or that your teen isn't interested in romantic relationships. Remember, most parents think it won't happen in their family.

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

But you should also make it clear that your teen can come to you with questions or concerns. The last thing you want is for your teen to hide things from you. 

Hold open discussions and allow your teen to ask questions. And most of all, help your teen become a well-rounded individual. Teens who have 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 child's school to teach kids 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," or they believe that it will never happen to them.

Establish rules about dating that will keep your teen safe. Make sure your teen is well-supervised. That doesn't mean you need to chaperone all of your child's dates but you should make rules that limit your teen's opportunities to engage in sexual activity.

Keep in mind that technology has changed teen romance. Many teens spend hours texting and sharing photos online, which can give them a feeling of closeness to someone that they don't necessarily spend a lot of time with in-person.

Finally, give your teen opportunities to speak to the doctor alone. Sometimes, teens who are afraid to ask their parents questions about sex or contraception will be much more willing to bring up the subject with a medical professional.

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