Preventing Teen Pregnancy at Pre-Adolescence

Preventing Teen Pregnancy at Pre-Adolescence

Kari R. Harris (University of Kansas School of Medicine, USA) and Melissa T. Hopper (University of Kansas School of Medicine, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6108-8.ch010
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Much attention is given to preventing teen pregnancy in the adolescent years, but primary prevention can and should start at a much younger age. Prevention strategies should be targeted at pre-adolescents with parents as leaders in the effort; however, healthcare providers, school systems, trusted adults, and the media are also critical components of this prevention team. This chapter discusses pediatric brain maturation, emphasizes the importance of adult-youth relationships, briefly reviews the risk factors associated with teen pregnancy, and explores methods of prevention that can be applied throughout the pre-adolescent stage of development.
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When discussing pregnancy prevention, little consideration goes towards pre-adolescent youth; however, there is potential for huge impact if prevention can begin prior to the age of adolescence. While pregnancy is conclusively linked to sexual intercourse, there are multiple opportunities preceding sexual initiation to discuss prevention; and by doing so, prevent early sexual debut – generally defined as sexual intercourse prior to the age of 14 years. Unlike many other developmental milestones, pre-adolescence is instead classified by stage of development rather than linear age. However, for ease of implication, this chapter considers pre-adolescence to generally include ages 9 to 12 years.

During this stage of life, the brain is developing in ways that formalize thought processes and decision-making for the rest of the child’s life. Adults close to the child can have a significant impact on their development during this time. This chapter will briefly overview the development of the pre-adolescent and adolescent brain to contextualize how positive influences can impact risk-taking behaviors and decision-making even into adulthood. The chapter will then focus on modifiable risks associated with the pre-adolescent population. This is followed by a discussion regarding media use and its effects on the pre-adolescent and adolescent youth. The chapter concludes with information regarding how adult interactions with youth can positively impact their development and mitigate risks otherwise associated with increased sexual risk and potential unplanned pregnancy in this age group. As there is limited research regarding pregnancy prevention in the pre-adolescent youth, this chapter explores potential risks and preventive measures as extrapolated from known risks in the adolescent population and risks associated with early sexual debut.

General search terms regarding pre-adolescent development, adolescent pregnancy and its associated risk factors, and media consumption were used within the pubmed database to develop a reference list of literature. The citations included within those publications were then further utilized in this writing. The chapter addresses predominate populations within the United States. However, as the overarching theme of this chapter is positive adult involvement in the lives of youth to promote healthy development, the authors feel that much of this information could be generalized to other populations of pre-adolescents. The objective of this chapter is to discuss important aspects of potential risks and protective factors contributing to unplanned teen pregnancy and its prevention in the context of development, media, parenting, and education.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sexting: Sending sexually explicit messages or pictures, often of oneself, to another person through digital media.

Superpeer Effect: The ability that media can have on influencing a user to partake in an activity that is being displayed.

Family Connectedness: The mutual feelings of support, comfort, and attachment that a child and parent share towards one another.

Parental Monitoring: The knowledge parents have about their children’s activities, social contacts, and location, and the rules and supervision that they apply to their children.

Executive Functioning: The higher cognitive processes related to goal setting and self-regulation, including inhibition and emotion control.

Trust Networks: Those individuals whom a child feels comfortable and safe with and can turn to for support and advice.

School Connectedness: The feeling of being accepted and supported by others within the school environment.

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