One of the most common observations of modern society made by the older generation is that today’s children are not children for very long. Whether it may be as simple and innocent as wearing their mum’s make-up at an earlier age or wearing a skirt that is far too short for school, the implications of growing up too fast are visible for all to see. Teenage pregnancy is perhaps the most obvious sign of shortened childhood, with Britain boasting the somewhat unsavoury statistic of having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe.
Why is Teenage Pregnancy so High in the U.K?
Education was thought to be the root-cause of this dilemma; however, numerous Government schemes put in place to tackle this issue have had relatively little effect and despite trying to address children in schools, the incidence of teenage pregnancies is still on the increase. Lessons such as sex education and PSHE (personal social health education) are not currently compulsory in schools and therefore, in reality relatively few children attend these classes; in addition, the stigma attached to these kinds of classes often renders children embarrassed and most children do not take them seriously. The reality of today’s society is that it is no longer a taboo to have children outside of marriage or at an early age; teenage pregnancy is now so common that it is almost a cultural ‘norm’.
Teenage pregnancy is not however, just a social issue; the health risks associated with giving birth at an early age are profound for both the mother and the child with infant and maternal mortality rates considerably higher than those related to mothers in their twenties. The breakdown of family life is also frequently connected to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety in young people and can be passed down from generation to generation. Child poverty is also more common in families with teenage parents. Research has also shows that pregnant teenagers are more likely to smoke and rink throughout their pregnancy, increasing the risk of premature birth, stillbirth and infant respiratory illnesses.
How to Improve the Situation
The Government is continuing to improve access to sex education in schools as well as encouraging more widespread access to contraceptives. In February 2009 the Government announced an extra 20.5 million pound investment aimed to make teenagers aware of the risks and dangers associated with teenage pregnancy, offer practical advice and skills to young expectant mothers, increase people’s awareness and availability of free contraception and raise awareness of the risks associated with having unprotected sex. Initiatives such as giving children a doll which behaves exactly like a newborn baby are also being used to make teenagers aware of the reality of bringing up a child as part of the social and healthcare lessons offered by schools.