Teenage Pregnancy and the Role of Health Professionals

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Home > Archives > Volume 15, Issue 4, published 30 Nov 2010 -------------------------------------------------
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Understanding the Significance of the Teenage Mother in Contemporary Parenting Culture by Jan Macvarish
University of Kent, Canterbury
Sociological Research Online, 15 (4) 3
<http://www.socresonline.org.uk/15/4/3.html>
10.5153/sro.2238
Received: 2 Jul 2010     Accepted: 1 Oct 2010    Published: 30 Nov 2010

Abstract
This paper attempts to understand the prominence given to teenage pregnancy in policy discussions since the late-1990s by contextualising it within a broader analysis of the contemporary 'culture of parenting'. The emerging field of parenting culture studies has begun to develop an analysis of the key features of policy, practice and informal culture. Three key concepts are discussed to shed an alternative light on the issue of teenage pregnancy and parenthood with the hope of further developing the healthy debate that has emerged in recent years in response to policy priorities: the development of 'parental tribalism' whereby differing parental choices and behaviour become a site for identity formation; the idea of a deficit at the level of parenting and intimate familial relationships; the reconceptualising of the parent as an autonomous, authoritative adult to a more infantilised imagining. The teenage mother, herself neither adult nor child, becomes emblematic of these developments.

Keywords: Teenage Pregnancy; Parenting; Sexuality; Adulthood; Family Policy

Introduction
1.1 This paper attempts to understand the prominence given to teenage pregnancy in policy discussions since the late-1990s by contextualising it within a broader analysis of the contemporary ‘culture of parenting’. The emerging field of parenting culture studies has begun to develop an analysis of the key features of policy, practice and informal culture surrounding the raising of children. Three concepts are discussed to shed an alternative light on the healthy debate that has emerged in recent years in response to the policy prioritisation of teenage pregnancy. First the development of ‘parental tribalism’ whereby differing parental choices have become a site for identity formation is explored in relation to teenage motherhood. Next we move on to consider the teenage mother as the exemplar of the idea of a deficit at the level of parenting and intimate familial relationships. Finally we consider how the focus on teenage mothers has played an important role in shifting the status of parent away from that of an autonomous, authoritative adult towards a more infantilised conceptualisation. Background

2.1 Since the late twentieth century in British politics and culture the teenage mother has acquired considerable prominence as a symbol of social decline, social failure or social backwardness. The Conservative government in the 1990s raised the threat of social decline through the politicisation of the single mother, with an aggressive rhetoric against falling moral standards, particularly amongst the ‘underclass’. This rhetoric was altered by New Labour following their 1997 election victory in line with a more optimistic national mood and resonant with traditional Labour concerns for social justice. The Britain of ‘Cool Britannia’ was re-branded as a youthful, socially and sexually open-minded, multicultural place rather than a backward-looking nation, past its best, struggling to...
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