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A comparison of the psychological profiles of teenage mothers and their nonmother peers

Oz, S., Andor, T, & Fine, M. (1992, Spring). A comparison of the psychological profiles of teenage mothers and their nonmother peers: I. ego development. Adolescence, 27, 194-202.

OVERVIEW

Adolescence is a time for experimenting with increasing intellectual capabilities (Piaget, 1969) and for attempting to resolve dependence-autonomy conflicts with the family of origin (Garcia-Preto & Travis, 1985; Lidz, 1983). The impact of motherhood during such a time of development has the potential to significantly impact that development. Comparisons have been made between the teen mother and what will be referred to as the nonmother (teens who have not been mothers). The teen mother has been found to be more likely to have spent much time in foster care (Oz & Fine, 1988) and also to have been sexually abused (Butler & Burton, 1990; Oz & Fine, 1988). The teen mother tends to have families with the following elements: distant fathers, perceived family rigidity, and perceived marital distress (Oz & Fine, in press).

AIM

This study explores the psychological characteristics of teen mothers and compares them to teens who are not mothers.

DESIGN

Using the sample developed by Oz and Fine (in press), the present analysis used the Loevinger Sentence Completion Test (Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; Loevinger, Wessler, & Redmore, 1970). This test measures maturity, defined as the ability to tolerate ambiguity in oneself and others (Loevinger, 1976). The test "suggests an individual’s approach to life’s problems and ability to perceive the varying complexities of life situations" (p. 195). Thirty-three teenage mothers and thirty-four nonmothers completed the test.

FINDINGS

The following were the results:

  • Teen mothers saw themselves as actively involved in their own development.
  • Nonmothers tend saw themselves as "passive receivers" of positive traits (for example, saying, "my brown eyes").
  • Teen mothers were more personal in their responses; nonmothers were more general.
  • 30% Of teen mothers claimed to be happy; 17% of nonmothers claimed to be happy.
  • 38% Of nonmothers and 20% of teen mothers claimed to have positive characteristics.
  • Teen mothers had a better appreciation for the complexity of motherhood.
  • One-third of teen mothers’ and less than one-tenth of nonmothers’ primary concern was for mother-daughter communication.
  • 53% Of nonmothers and 25% of teen mothers wished their mothers would be different for their (the mother’s) own sake.
  • 56% Of nonmothers thought one’s father was great; only 18% of teen mothers felt that way. 48% Of teen mothers and 0% of nonmothers saw father as distant or punitive.
  • 53% Of teen mothers wished they had not become pregnant. All saw pregnancy as something that happened to them and over which they had no control.
  • 65% Of nonmothers and 39% of teen mothers felt happy or secure with men. 36% Of both groups felt positively about sex.

CONCLUSION

The results of this test contradicted some and supported other findings of prior studies. It found that teen mothers demonstrate a more mature ego development, contradicting prior reports. One explanation for this suggested by the authors is the existence of mother support groups and on-site high school day care centers. They saw these as potentially relieving stress, hence making it more likely for the mother to reach her potential. This test confirmed that teen mothers tend to have more negative relationships with their fathers and highly involved relationships with their mothers. It also confirmed that they feel less comfortable with men than with their nonmother counterparts.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

  1. In what areas do teen mothers demonstrate a higher level of ego development?
  2. Are the gains in maturity shown by teen mothers short-lived?
  3. What type of impact might mother support groups and on-site high school day-care centers have on teen mothers?
  4. What other services might be made available to the teen mother? By the government? By schools? By the church?

IMPLICATIONS

  1. Teen mothers need to cope with the dual tasks of growing up emotionally and cognitively and of being a mother.
  2. Due to the added complexity motherhood brings, the parenting teen may be better equipped to handle life’s ambiguities.
  3. Teen parents need the support of significant other adults.

Bonnie Natte cCYS