Effects of Teen Motherhood Last Generations, Study Finds

(CN) – Teenage mothers are more likely to raise children who do not have the cognitive skills necessary for school – and that trend can trickle down to the grandchildren of teenage mothers even if their own mothers were adults when they were born, according to a new study published Wednesday.

“Interventions to improve outcomes of children born to adolescent mothers should also extend to grandchildren of adolescent mothers,” the study authors say. “Adolescent childbearing has significant implications for early childhood development – not just for the child of that mother, but also for the grandchild of that mother.” 

Children born to young mothers are less ready for school and have poorer educational outcomes – an effect that lingers for multiple generations, the study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE found.

Researchers from Stanford University in California and at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada reviewed multiple factors to determine a child’s school readiness, including the child’s physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, and communication skills and general knowledge.

Researchers compared the data of 11,326 children born to teenage mothers and to mothers over the age of 20 from 2000 through 2006 in Manitoba, Canada. In kindergarten, these children were given a 103-item questionnaire assessing five areas of development, which researchers then linked to a data repository, test scores and a census report.

Thirty-six percent of children whose grandmothers were teenage moms were found to be unready for school, versus 31 percent of children whose grandmothers were over the age of 20 when they had their first child.

These children struggled to maintain their physical well-being and also fell behind in social competence, language and cognitive development, according to the study.

The question is how much of this outcome is a result of genetics, and how much of social and cultural norms, the researchers said. Genetics play a role in a child’s memory and verbal skills, but so do social habits and the environment in which a teenage mother was raised and in which she raises her own child. Societal norms like smoking, drinking, drug use and overall prenatal care contribute to the generational impact of teenage pregnancy and school readiness.

One explanation for the disparity may be that adolescent mothers are more likely to drop out of high school after becoming pregnant,  according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, a mother’s education plays a strong role in a child’s development and behavioral outcomes. A mother with more education will likely provide a more stimulating home environment for her children versus a mother who had fewer educational opportunities while growing up.

Researchers said their study could not address all the factors involved in a child’s development. Data on the educational levels and marital statuses of the mothers and grandmothers or the families’ income was not available.

Pregnancy rates for teens have steadily declined over the past quarter century in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, Canada saw a dramatic rise in teenage parenthood in pockets of the country over the same time period.

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