How Families and Communities are Helping Teen Moms Beat the Odds

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During her senior year in high school, Sarah got news that would change her life forever. No, it wasn’t admission into her dream college; instead, it was something that would make her path much harder — she was pregnant at age 17.
About 820,000 American teens this year will get the same life-changing news. For every 10 teen American girls, three will become pregnant in their teenaged years. Less than half of these teens will graduate high school, and only 2% will earn a college degree by the age of 30. Sadly, 25% have a second child within two years of their first, compounding their struggles and nearly ensuring that they will not graduate from high school.
The effects of teen pregnancy are felt across the generations because the daughters of teen mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves and their sons are more likely to get involved with the legal system before they turn eighteen. For teen mothers who do not graduate from high schools, their children are nine times more likely to grow up in poverty. When school is pushed to the background, a lifetime of financial uncertainty is often the result.
Statistics aside, teen pregnancy is life-altering for the teen mother, father, and their extended families. When a teen girl finds out she is pregnant there are many immediate needs that get in the way of continuing her high school education. Health, financial needs, and living arrangements frequently become critical stressors that consume the young mother-to-be. Overcoming these odds is no easy task; however, many face unique challenges when it comes to completing their education including discrimination, transportation problems, difficult family dynamics, time constraints, and child care costs.
As a clinical psychologist I have worked with teens, including teen moms and their families, for more than a decade. The best outcomes always come when a family and community rally to support a pregnant teen in several ways. Of course the support that families lend to provide adequate medical care, nutrition, and a stable living environment is vital. Emotional support and financial planning are also highly correlated with positive outcomes. But one often overlooked factor that predicts success for the young mom and her child is the completion of a high school education. This not only has the practical effect of improving her employability in the future and her ability to obtain a higher education, but it helps her to emotionally complete an important stage of adolescence. By not missing out on this vital achievement, teen moms are more likely to mature into the role of being a stable and effective young mother in the years to come.
I have been fortunate to be part of a program in our community whose goal is specifically to provide support for teen mothers in completing their high school degrees. Kairos Academy was created to be an academic program that helps teen mothers manage the many obstacles they face each day as they work to pursue their school and career-related goals.
Students can enroll at the Kairos Academy regardless of what school district they live in and will serve students of all backgrounds and abilities. The principal at Kairos Academy operates from a mantra that his students are moms, and moms are the greatest superheroes. They keep fighting for a better life for themselves and their children. Kairos Academy and those who support the organization are standing behind these moms to help them make their dream of a better life for their children possible.
Sarah was fortunate to have a family and community that supported her in many ways, but specifically in completing high school. “You hear from so many people that you won’t graduate from school because you have a baby now,” commented Sarah shortly after enrolling in Kairos Academy. “I won’t give up on school, especially now that we have a school that supports us and other students who know how hard it is to be a mom and a student. I’m not doing this just for me. My son needs me to succeed so that he can have a bright future.” The school hopes to help many more determined teen moms achieve their goals.
Kairos Academy is a tuition-free public school that serves female students in the ninth through twelfth grades. For more information, please visit their website at www.kairosacademy.org.

Kevin Fenstermacher, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who works with teens and their families in Salt Lake City, Utah and the surrounding areas.

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