Primary Sources: Can Family Strengths Prevent Teen Pregnancy Even When There's Trouble at Home?

Photograph of a smiling family on the beach.

"The Protective Effect of Family Strengths in Childhood against Adolescent Pregnancy and Its Long-Term Psychosocial Consequences" (PDF,  885 KB). The Permanente Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, Fall 2010.

What it's about: This study examines how family strengths, such as closeness, support, loyalty, protection, love, and responsiveness to healthcare needs, may protect teens from getting pregnant, having risky sex and dealing with other psychological and social problems. The researchers surveyed over 4,000 young women about childhood abuse, substance abuse in the home, domestic violence, mental illness and other family problems during the first 18 years of their lives.

Why read it: Previous research suggests that positive childhood experiences protect young women from becoming pregnant as teens. However, not many studies have considered how these strengths may buffer against the problems teens may face, such as family money problems or divorce. This study looks at the interplay between the positive and the negative factors that affect teen girls.

Biggest take away for youth workers: The more family strengths girls had, the less likely they were to become pregnant or have long-term psychosocial problems. Girls who had problems at home especially benefited from having family strengths. Other findings include:

  • Teen girls with communicative families and supportive parents started having sex at a later age, had fewer sex partners, and were more likely to use condoms than their peers.
  • Some of the same benefits teen girls receive from family strengths can also be achieved by attending youth programs that build competence and confidence through supportive relationships not only with parents but also with peers and mentors. These relationships may fulfill a need for closeness otherwise sought through sex.
  • Youth development program efforts that build family strengths in childhood are likely to promote teens' positive choices related to women's health that last many years.

The authors suggest that youth workers talk to young women to find out their family strengths as well as the bad experiences or circumstances they may have had at home. Knowing a young woman's background can help youth workers understand why girls make certain decisions or take risks when it comes to sex.

Additional reference: The Child Welfare Information Gateway’s resource page on protective factors explains what individual and family strengths are and provides tools youth workers can use to measure young people's strengths.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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