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Teenage pregnancy is a condition where a girl aged between thirteen to nineteen years is impregnated. Girls in this age have limited professional skills and are financially unstable and are mostly psychologically juvenile (McGraw-Hill, 2002). Stanley & Swierzewski (2007) point out that the rates of teenage pregnancies had dropped between the years 1991 to 2005 by 33%. However, the trend was reversed between the year 2006 and 2007 recording approximately 4% increment.
Teenage pregnancy- a social problem
Teenage pregnancy is a major social problem. At personal level, adolescent pregnancy may lead to poverty, anguish, abortion, malnutrition, loss of life, loss of youthful status and some people even consider it as an immoral behavior (Walker, 2008). Additionally, Stanley & Swierzewski (2007), say teen pregnancies are linked to high levels of substance abuse, failure to attain high standards of education and participation in crime by poor parents and the effects are felt nationally.
A number of methods have been adopted to reduce teenage pregnancies. Sex education programs, direct access to contraception and individual options to stay virgin are features which help to avoid this social problem (Woolston, 2009). According to Woolston (2009), caregiver may be the most important resource in combating teenage pregnancies. There are minimal chances of teens engaging in sexual activities when parents talk explicitly with their children about sexuality and responsibility. McKeon (2006) and Dorn (2010) cite abstinence-only method and comprehensive sexual education.
Abstinence-only technique seeks to prevent teenage pregnancies by dissuading youngsters from engaging in sex. Teenagers are encouraged to abstain from sex until matrimony to avoid becoming pregnant and contracting sexual transmitted diseases. Proponents of this technique also argue that engaging in sexual activities before matrimony is immoral and there is no retention of sexual health. Abstinence strategies are embodied in programs like 'Aspire and True Loves Waits' (Avert, 2010). These strategies are focused at teaching teenagers the need to avoid sexual intercourse until marriage so as to realize social, psychological, and vigor gains of abstaining. The key features of abstinence-only method are; avoidance of sexual intercourse outside marriage so as to avoid the associated problems, advocates sex for faithful monogamous couple, warns that teenage sex has dreadful emotional and physical consequences as well as harmful effect to society, and it also encourages individual competence prior to indulging in sexual activities (Collins, 2002). Over the years, abstinence-only education has been deemed a failure (Collins, 2002).
However critics argue that abstinence only programs are not successful in addressing teenage pregnancies McKeon (2006). Studies cited in McKeon (2006) say teenagers who promise not to engage in sex before marriage do not keep their word although some delay sex for a while. McKeon observes that rate of pregnancies and STI cases between those who practice abstinence-only strategies and abstinence-plus strategies were the same. According to Avert (2010) and McKeon (2006) studies have shown that this approach has bottlenecks and that it contains bogus allegations about the usefulness of contraceptives; irrational warnings against abortion; spiritual values as scientific realities; stereotypes about lads and daughters as researched realities; and medicinal and scientific blunders of verity.
Comprehensive sex education
Comprehensive sex education also referred to as abstinence-plus education is strategy that support abstinence as the most critical way to thwart teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases whilst providing exact and age appropriate guidance on meaningful social affairs, use of contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases. (Healthy Teen Network, 2010). This enables young people to make accountable choices regarding sexual activity. Comprehensive sex education or abstinence-plus education informs teens about anatomy, sexual activities, measures to avoid pregnancy and gender responsibilities. Healthy Teen Network reports that this strategy has shown promising results on the actions of teenagers including: Increased use of contraceptives, delay to involvement in sexual activity, reduction in number of sexual partners and reduction in the rate of sexual intercourses (Healthy Teen Network, 2010). This strategy is supported by parents as well as parents and its results are encouraging (McKeon, 2006).
However, those opposed to this method of preventing teenage pregnancy argue that critics argue that it will just encourage sexual promiscuity and also devalues abstinence-only education (Dorn, 2010). Additional, Dorn submits that contraceptives do not cut spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Shardlow (2008) defines attitudes as optimistic or pessimistic valuations of objects of ideas. He further states that attitudes are comprised of cognitive constituent, affective component and behavioral constituents. There are several psychological features that play a part in attitude formation and change towards the social problem teenage pregnancies. Attitudes can be formed direct instruction where a teenage is directed on what attitudes to have by those surrounding or by religious doctrines (Shardlow, 2008). According to Kanku (2009), peer pressure from boyfriends may lead to teenage pregnancy. Strong Christian believers acknowledge abstinence only method as they hold a low opinion on early sexual activities. As there is no contraception, teenagers end up contracting sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies (McKeon, 2006).
Attitudes can also be formed through social learning and this is highly attributed to modeling (Shardlow, 2008). Shardlow (2008) continues to say that as we observe others, we tend to take the attitudes and behaviors that are rewarded and discard those which are abhorred. Walker (2004), blames sexuality found in television shows, adverts, and magazines that aim a young lady's curiosity. Most girl clothes on sale are tight fitting, low cut, and undersized (Walker, 2004). They are made with the intention of copying attires suitable for adults as every teenager wants to attain adulthood. Walker argues that "since society surrounds teenagers with sexuality in their every day lives and sells the provocative clothing that makes girls feel more adult, it is inevitable that they become sexual at an earlier age."
Classical conditioning is away of attitude formation may occur through social learning (Shardlow, 2008). Shardlow says "pleasant or unpleasant experiences with members of a particular group could lead to positive or negative attitudes toward that group. Classical conditioning is especially involved with the emotional, or affective, component of attitudes."
Cognitive dissonance comes about when allied cognitions, mind-sets or behaviors are conflicting. If a teen previously hated sex and indulges in it, she may change the attitude and become fond of the experience (Shardlow, 2008).
In order to change the attitudes towards teenage pregnancies, it is wise to control and monitor them (Pregnancy info.net, 2009). Parents ought to acknowledge their sexual attitudes and values to teens. This will help them when forming attitudes through rational analysis (Shardlow, 2008). Control what the children watch on televisions and other media to curb negative social learning (Pregnancy info.net, 2009). Adults can help change attitude towards early pregnancies by action as responsible models as children may always copy what the adults do (Pregnancy info.net, 2009).
Attitude change measurement
According to Wang (2009), attitude change can either be measured directly, indirectly or through psychological response. Direct measurement of attitudes involves asking structured or unstructured question and it may involve scales. Indirect method, attitudes are measured through scrutinizing a reaction, behavior and favors on judgments. Unstructured method does not constrain people's responses, gives enough data, and is useful in developmental stages of investigating issues. On the other hand, structured method is simpler for respondents to answer, simpler for investigator to score, and clearly targets specific aspects of attitude (Wang, 2009).
As noted above teenage pregnancy presents socio-economic headache to the victim and their family but also the entire community. Resources that would otherwise be used in development projects are spent counseling and taking care of teenage mothers. To effectively address this challenge, there is need to involve teenagers in education campaign and the public at large. At the same time, hefty fines should be imposed on adults guilty of impregnating teenagers. Towards this end, governments and other community based organizations need to engage the community to change attitudes that promote sex among teenagers. Additionally, Comprehensive sex education needs to be marketed aggressively to achieve desired results of reducing teenage pregnancies and STDs.