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Transition to Young Parenthood


In recent years, a trend has been noted in different parts of the world in which the number of children born out of wedlock has risen significantly. At the same time, divorce rates have also been observed to be on the rise, thus exposing many children to new family structures. Although there are numerous outcomes associated with these occurrences, it is believed that being brought up in such fragile family structures is a leading cause of young parenthood (Hofferth & Goldscheider, 2010). Precisely, the authors report that in many cases, girls who are brought up by single parents are likely to venture into parenthood early. The situation is also the same for boys who grow up in settings of nonresidential fatherhood. Other than this, it has been established that economic transitions, as well as adolescent behaviors, also influence the transition to young parenthood. In accordance with the notion that adolescence is a very crucial period of a person’s lifespan, and which is heavily influenced by social factors such as the society, school, and family, the way an adolescent person interacts with social settings exerts strong influence on his/her individual development (Miller, 2003). Clearly, becoming a parent at a younger-than-usual age is rarely the will of an individual, but is triggered by a mix of social-economic factors. In accordance with this thesis, this essay analyzes the phenomenon of young parenthood by exploring the various factors that put adolescents at risk of premature parenting. The analysis also includes the different theories that explain young parenthood, such as social learning, life history, social control, and intergenerational transmissibility. The essay then concludes with final thoughts that are drawn from the critical analysis presented in the main body.

Risk factors and theories related to young parenthood

The influence of family structure on young parenthood is amply supported by the theory of social learning, which postulates that the type of family in which one grows up shapes the roles that he or she will play during young adulthood. According to Hofferth and Goldscheider (2010), two-parent families instill vital knowledge such as responsibility among fathers, and healthy interaction between males and females. On the other hand, a child who is brought up by his/her mother alone is more likely to acquire relationship skills, expectations, and habits that predispose him or her towards becoming a single parent later in life. For girls, the impact is greater as the single-parent structure is likely to lead her to form the conclusion that women can effectively manage families alone.

The social learning model closely resembles the concept on intergeneration transmission, which has also been advanced to explain why school-age parenthood occurs. Horwitz et al. (1991) reiterate a widely-held notion: children from families headed by women are likely to give birth at a young age. It is also widely believed that most teenage parents have a history of premature sexual activity, have had unsuccessful academic experiences, and have myriad problem behaviors. An interesting observation made about such people is that their parents had similar histories. Precisely, it has been observed that in most cases, women who became sexually active when young are likely to give birth to daughters who are equally sexually active. In view of this, it is postulated that young parenthood is one of those phenomena that have a feature of intergenerational transmissibility. Although the notion of intergenerational transmissibility does not have sufficient backing in terms of its validity in explaining the causes of young parenthood, Horwitz et al. (1991) claim that in many instances, men who became parents at a young age were born by teenage parents.

Another theory that explains the transition to young parenthood is the theory of social control, which advances the central premise that parenting affects adolescent development from two dimensions: closeness together with control. Hofferth and Goldscheider (2010) define control as the attention that parents give to their children, and this also includes the degree to which they monitor the activities of their kids. Control also encompasses the extent to which parents set rules to guide their children’s behavior.

On the one hand, it is helpful to exercise this kind of control over a child’s life, particularly in order to instill essential norms. Even so, it has been noted that the magnitude of control that is exerted during adolescence determines the individual’s transition into adulthood. Hofferth and Goldscheider (2010) observe that during adolescence, parents should ensure a balance between control and the level of autonomy granted to the adolescent. Adolescents require some autonomy in order to be able to acquire the ability to make sound decisions. Research shows that adolescents whose parents are excessively strict have a higher probability of running away from home, which exposes them to the risk of becoming parents at a very young age.

The above statement leads to the next dimension of social control, which is closeness. Hofferth and Goldscheider (2010) posit that unless parents cultivate and maintain strong emotional connection with the adolescent children, control does not yield any tangible results. The dilemma emerges when it is considered that during the adolescent stage, individuals experience declining closeness to their parents. This is disastrous to the adolescent’s transition to adulthood because it means that he or she does not have a person that can be relied upon when the adolescent is facing behavior problems.

Young parenthood may also set in when an adolescent experiences the moral panic or crisis that usually occurs during this stage of human development. In his seminal work titled Adolescence, Granville Hall described adolescence as a stormy and stressful period, the major reason being that ‘”individuals vacillate within a wide emotional range” (Miller, 2003 p. 348). As a result of this volatility of emotions, adolescents exhibit divergent behaviors, some of which may be energy-filled while others could be lethargic and indifferent. When such happens, an adolescent is likely to find himself or herself engaging in risky behaviors. The interpretation of Hall’s idea is that emotions are a key determinant of one’s transition to adulthood, and that unless these emotions are managed properly, they may lead the individual into irreversible consequences such as early parenthood.

Still in line with Hall’s proposition that adolescents normally undergo a very stormy developmental period, it has been observed that young people are prone to engaging in criminal activities, hence posing a threat to moral order. Accordingly, discussions about the topic of transition to young parenthood often include the concept of moral panic (Furlong, 2009). In simple terms, this concept postulates that it is during adolescence that many people experience the temptation and pressure of indulging in substance use, dangerous sexual behavior, and crime (Levesque, 2011). Such behaviors put individuals at a risk of becoming parents at an inappropriately young age. In a study performed on adolescent fathers, it was established that young men consuming illegal substances are more prone to premature fatherhood as compared to their peers who do not use such substances (Loyola University Chicago, 2007).

On a different note, studies reveal that there is a link between psychological disorders and young parenthood. According to (2007), adolescent men who have psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and conduct disorder are more likely to become fathers at a very young age. The chances are greater when the individual suffers from multiple disorders simultaneously. Lack of sufficient education has also been found to be another factor that puts adolescents at risk of young parenthood. This corresponds with the observation made by Lloyd, the National Research Council, and the Institute of Medicine (2005) that young people are taking a longer interval to assume adult roles. Among various factors identified to cause this widening interval, it is noted that the current generation of young people spends most of their time in school. As a result of being highly occupied with academic activities, adolescents spending much of their time in school are less likely to become parents early.

Education is also a key determinant of young parenthood when viewed from the perspective of the skills and knowledge it imparts on individuals. When it comes to the topic of young parenthood, education plays a vital role in providing sexual as well as reproductive knowledge (Stein, 2012). As Loyola University Chicago (2007) puts it, people who do not have adequate education lack knowledge on matters on reproductive and sexual health. Similarly, they tend to be less knowledgeable on matters of contraception, which predisposes them to young adulthood. Additionally, education bestows vital skills such as the ability to cope with stressful events that may occur in one’s lives.

The value of education in helping one to make informed choices about his or her life is clearly reflected in findings made from a study done on a sample of men with different education levels. It was found that men whose education levels were below high school responded that being without a child is tantamount to leading an empty life (Loyola University Chicago, 2007). With such an attitude, the probability is high that people with lower education levels will get children at a very early age.

It is not only the education level of the adolescent that puts him or her at risk of early parenthood; the parents’ education level also matters. According to Loyola University Chicago (2007), parental education is a risk factor for young parenthood. It has been observed that children born to parents with little education are likely to receive very little education themselves. This is partly because of the fact that such may take minimal interest in the education of their children. On top of this, there is a high probability that parents who are inadequately educated may be experiencing financial hardships, which leads to the notion that spending on children’s education is a luxury.

Culture is another influencer of young parenthood, and this relationship is explained by the identity theory. In some cultures such as Latin America, a man’s self-worth and identity is measured in terms of ability to father children. A similar situation has been observed among African-American men, where a majority of the large-families are headed by young fathers. In this latter culture, it is believed that becoming a father at a young age is good as it gives one the experience of handling young children directly. Apart from this, young fatherhood is encouraged because of the perception that it fosters a higher level of comfort with the role of parenting (Loyola University Chicago, 2007).

Grant and Potenza (2010) present yet another theory that attempts to explain why adolescence is such a risky stage with respect to the outcome of young parenthood. Known as the theory of life history, this model postulates that a person’s life comprises many competing functions and limited resources. These result into two broad classifications: reproductive efforts and somatic efforts. In brief, somatic effort symbolizes the resources dedicated towards a person’s survival; reproductive effort denotes those resources dedicated to parenting. This latter set of efforts involves balancing between parenting efforts and mating efforts. In other words, an individual is expected to demonstrate commitment to his/her partner whilst at the same time taking optimum care of his/her children.

The life history model further posits that in general, mating efforts are usually directed towards the immediate objective of experiencing sexual gratification. However, mating efforts may at times result into the often unconscious and more distal outcome of reproduction (Grant & Potenza, 2010). More importantly, the theory holds that there are a number of elements that define reproductive strategy, examples being pubertal timing, and relationship stability. The implication that is obtained from this theory is that unless adolescents clearly know what it is that they want from a relationship, they should approach mating efforts with a lot of consciousness as failure to do so can result into unwanted/untimely reproduction.

Hofferth and Goldscheider (2010) identify family instabilities as another theory related to transition to young parenthood. When instabilities such as divorce together with separation take place, children’s lives are deeply unsettled, and this cultivates feelings of insecurity that plague the child for many years. It should be noted that instability is very different from the concept of family structure because it denoted the frequency of disruptions that a child experiences as he or she grows up.

The exact mechanism through which family instability triggers young parenthood is explained by Hofferth and Goldscheider (2010). According to these authors, instability exposes children to outcomes such as stress, social as well as financial capital challenges, and premature sexual activity. Apart from these stresses, children of divorced or separated parents are often compelled to live with strangers like step parents along with half siblings. Research indicates that some step parents may be a threat to the developmental health of their step children, specifically as they may introduce them to early sexual activity. Even where this does not happen, living with step parents may predispose one to young parenthood in the sense that the child may experience frequent conflicts with new family members, which may drive him or her to get married earlier than appropriate, thus becoming a parent while still very young. Adolescent girls are particularly susceptible to these circumstances, and it is common for girls to get away from unstable family setups by entering into sexual relationships just to regain that feeling of stability, irrespective of how unpredictable these relationships might be. Boys, too, may be tempted to sire a child earlier than appropriate just in order to enjoy the warmth of being in a lasting relationship with a girl (the woman with whom he fathered the child).


Of the different stages of human growth and development, adolescence is the most delicate and most important as it precedes the final phase, which is adulthood. As revealed in this analysis, adolescence is a stormy and stressful period that subjects one to emotional volatility and social influences. Unless one has adequate cognitive skills of copping with these stresses, chances are high that one may land into irreversible trouble, such as young parenthood. The risk factors of young parenthood are numerous, ranging from family structure to level of education. With regard to family structure and its impact on young parenthood, theories such as social learning and intergenerational transmissibility offer vivid explanations of how this link develops. In brief, it has been found that except in rare cases, children who were born when their parents were of a young age are likely to become parents at a young age too. However, the fact that there are exceptions to this statement means that there are also other theories that explain young parenthood. One such theory that has been found to be convincing is the life history model, which simply holds that young parenthood might occur as a result of poorly thought-of mating efforts intended to yield sexual satisfaction, but end up in reproduction. In light of these and other causes, it is proposed that young parenthood can be eliminated or reduced if the various risk factors are explored and relevant solutions applied.



List of References

Furlong, A. 2009, Handbook of youth and young adulthood: new perspectives and agendas. Routledge.

Grant, J. E., & Potenza, M. N. 2010, Young adult mental health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hofferth S. & Goldscheider, F. 2010, Family structure and the transition to early parenthood. Demography, 47(2), pp. 415-437.

Horwitz, S., Klerman, L., Kuo, H. & Jekel, J. 1991, Intergenerational transmission of school-age parenthood. Family Planning Perspectives, 23(4), pp.168-172.

Levesque, R. J. R. 2011, Encyclopedia of adolescence. New York: Springer.

Lloyd, C. B., National Research Council (U.S.), & Institute of Medicine (U.S.). 2005, Growing up global: The changing transitions to adulthood in developing countries : selected studies. Washington, D.C.: National Research Council.

Loyola University Chicago. 2007, Factors associated with the continued paternal involvement of young, unwed fathers. ProQuest.

Miller, J. R. 2003, Encyclopedia of human ecology. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Stein, M. 2012, Young People Leaving Care: Supporting Pathways to Adulthood. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


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