Children having children? Religion, psychology and the birth of the teenage pregnancy problem

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From History of the Human Sciences

In recent years the phrase ‘children having children’ has been used by politicians, academics, policy focussed NGO’s and Children’s charities to describe the worrying trend in the UK of rising teenage parenthood. This expression is not exclusively British and has been a recurring theme in the public discussion of ‘teenage pregnancy’ in the USA. Five decades after London County Council officers began separating ‘pregnant children’ from older women who conceived out of wedlock, governmental concern with ‘children having children’ persists.  This article explores government work with ‘unwed mothers’ and identifies the shifts associated with the ascent of governmental concern with ‘teenage motherhood’. There is much debate regarding young people’s bodily and mental ‘maturity’ in relation to parenthood. Much consideration fails to acknowledge the historical and cultural contingency of contemporary western notions of ‘teenage’. This article suggests as long as contemporary scientific claims regarding young people’s maturity go unchallenged, the ‘problem’ of teenage parenthood will persist.

Abstract

This article presents a genealogical examination of the emergence of governmental concern with ‘children having children’, focusing on the work of the London County Council and local voluntary organizations in the 1950s and 1960s. The article explores the moral-Christian discourse shaping governmental work with ‘unwed mothers’ and identifies the discursive shifts associated with the ascent of the problematization of ‘teenage motherhood’. It is argued that within the moral-Christian discourse, a woman’s subjectivity was delineated primarily according to her ‘character’ not her age or her ‘maturity’. Furthermore, the prospect that a young unwed mother will raise her child was viewed positively as it was seen to contribute to the desired transformation of her character. The shift to a concern with ‘children having children’ was linked with a rise in the influence of psychological discourse on government work. Two psychological notions were particularly important: the proposition that teenagers are emotionally immature and the assertion that inadequate mothering has a lasting effect on the health of a child. The article concludes that unless contemporary scientific claims regarding young people’s psychological and physiological maturity are challenged, the ‘problem’ of teenage parenthood will persist in the years to come.

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Article details

Koffman, O. (2011). Children having children? Religion, psychology and the birth of the teenage pregnancy problem History of the Human Sciences, 25 (1), 119-134 DOI: 10.1177/0952695111426383

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One Response to “Children having children? Religion, psychology and the birth of the teenage pregnancy problem”

  1. Weekly Overview of Social Science News Says:

    […] Children having children? Religion, psychology and the birth of the teenage pregnancy problem From History of the Human Sciences […]

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