Although many adolescent girls in both earlier periods and today choose to mother their children due to teenage motherhood, it is too often a case of poorly prepared and poorly informed "children raising children." This usually serves neither of them well, as the young mother has no time to develop her individuality, educational potential, or even physical health, and her lack of parenting skills, as well as the earlier lack of prenatal care, can affect her child's physical and cognitive development negatively (Cziczo, 2004).
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Few aspects of family life are more culturally determined than the ages of betrothal, marriage, and childbearing. We are all familiar with people among whom teen marriage and teenage mothers are not only common but the expected norm. The crisis is far worse than is generally known because adults who parent their children badly cover up their shame-based inner selves. So the crisis is not just about how we raise our children: it is about a large number of people who look like adults, talk and dress like adults, but who are actually children. These adult children often run and create our families.
Sweeping societal problems with poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, broken homes and "children-raising-children" have culminated in a staggering increase in child maltreatment. Many of these children exhibit severe difficulties in relating to others and in coping within family settings (Kunstal, 1997). Abandoned children have no one there for them. Children may even have to take care of their parents. The preciousness and uniqueness every human child possesses are destroyed through abandonment. The child is alone and ashamed. This abandonment creates a shame-based inner core. Once a child's inner self is flawed by shame, the experience of self is painful. To compensate, the child develops a false self in order to survive. When A Child Raises A Child Page 2 The false self forms a defensive mask, distracting the true self from its pain and inner loneliness. After years of acting, performing and pretending, the child loses contact with the true self.
That true self is numbered out. The false self cover-up makes it impossible to develop self-esteem. Our children represent our hope for the future. In the United States, they place no restrictions on who can have children and how many children they can have. Infants are conceived and born to adults and adolescents, ill equipped to provide the financial and emotional support needed to raise happy, healthy, responsible, caring children. Today, we literally see children raising children. Society's “adultification” of children in general contributes to welfare's poverty cycle. Various judicial rulings have undercut the role parents can have in helping their children with difficult decisions. Courts have ruled that parental notification for dispensing birth control drugs and devices violates the minors' rights. Courts have ruled their children need not obtain their parents' permission before they obtain an abortion. The natural progression of this continued trend toward children's rights is the breakdown of the family (Closson & Anderson, 2000). The most rapid rise in poverty rates have been among the children whom the system was ostensibly designed to help.
The astonishing increase of over 400 percent in illegitimate births is a principal reason for poverty and the perpetuation of a poverty cycle of children raising children. Such comparisons are unfortunately misleading and should not be taken as evidence that today's teen mothers are following a long tradition. In many societies, women marry at a comparatively early age; thus teen mothers are also teen wives. In the 1950s and 1960s, a When A Child Raises A Child Page 3 high percentage of teenage mothers in America are married women. This is clearly no the case today (Kaplan & Westheimer, 2000). Over the past 30 years, the average age of women has risen steadily. The median age of women at the time of their first marriage in 1970 was only 21. In the 1980s, almost a third of all first-time brides were under age 20. By 1996, the median age had risen to 25, and 91 percent of all 18 and 19-year-old women had never married. Although a number of children born to teenage mothers has skyrocketed.
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