Teenage Pregnancy Among Connecticut's Hispanics

Published on
July 22, 2011

The Connecticut Health Investigative Team (C-HIT) plans to undertake a project that examines the underlying issues impacting Connecticut's Hispanic teens who are giving birth at an increasing rate, despite a national drop in teen pregnancies. The project will include two in-depth articles, a pod-cast featuring a teen subject and photography. La Voz Hispana, Connecticut's largest Hispanic newspaper and website, will publish/post the pieces, as well. The crisis of teenage pregnancy among Hispanic teens is a pressing health and social issue that has garnered little media attention in Connecticut.

The project is a perfect fit for C-HIT, a non-profit website (c-hit.org) dedicated to producing original, responsible journalism on health and safety issues in Connecticut and the surrounding region. The project will be distributed to C-HIT's print, online and radio media partners, including La Voz Hispana, The New London Day, The Manchester Journal Inquirer and National Public Radio, along with websites such as CTNEWSJUNKIE.COM, CTWatchdog.com, New Haven Independent and Your Public Media. C-HIT is a member of the Investigative News Network, which will feature the project and share it with its media partner Reuters.

Parenthood often comes early in life for Hispanic teens living in Connecticut leading to far-reaching ramifications for the young parents and their children. Low graduation rates, high achievement gaps, high poverty rates and a lack of culturally appropriate sex education all play a role in this crisis, along with language barriers and cultural pressures that set Hispanic teens apart from others.

It's the cultural nuances that impact Hispanic teens that I find the most interesting. Hispanic teens get mixed messages as they grow up. Strict parents encourage them to stay away from the opposite sex. Some forbid dating or require chaperones. Yet at the same time, teenage girls and boys are encouraged to embrace their sexuality at an early age. Extravagant "quinceañeras" to celebrate a girl's 15th birthday publicly spotlight their transition from childhood to young womanhood. Hispanic boys often feel pressured to prove their manhood by having sex; fathering children is proof of their conquest. There seems to be little pressure to marry once teen couples discover they are having a baby. Often times, the grandparents step in to raise the babies. My hope is to speak with teen girls and boys (the boys are often overlooked by media) as well as their parents to better understand this phenomenon.

The diversity within the Hispanic community itself is another important factor impacting teenage pregnancy. Health status and behavior vary within different Hispanic subgroups and with the length of time that they have lived in the United States. People have a tendency to lump all Hispanic groups together because they speak Spanish (although vocabulary differs within the subgroups, as well). They assume all Hispanics look alike and share the same values. But in reality, Hispanic subgroups can vary significantly, each with its own rich traditions, customs and beliefs – all of which impact teen behavior. Puerto Ricans represent the largest subgroup in Connecticut. But the number of Hispanics from Latin America (Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru among others) has rapidly increased in recent years. My hope is to find subjects from the various subgroups to shed light on these cultural nuances.

Glimmers of hope do exist, however. The project will also examine a number of efforts underway in Connecticut to break the Hispanic teenage pregnancy cycle. These programs give at-risk boys and girls reasons not to get pregnant by investing in their education and physical and mental wellbeing, rather than exclusively focusing on sex education and the consequences of teenage pregnancy.

C-HIT greatly appreciates the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship for its support and welcomes feedback from this online community of health reporters.