Adolescent motherhood and developmental outcomes of children in Early Head Start: The role of family characteristics, maternal well-being, and parenting

Michelle Lodise, Pace University


Numerous studies have described the increased risk of poorer developmental outcomes among the children of adolescent mothers, leading adolescent parent status to be viewed as a risk factor for child development. However, research has often shown that the developmental differences observed between the children of adolescent and older mothers cannot be attributed solely to maternal age. Rather, these differences in child outcomes have often been accounted for by the less optimal parenting behaviors and increased risk for maternal mental health problems observed among adolescent mothers. Studies have also shown that adolescent mothers and their children are more likely to be exposed to a number of demographic and family risk factors that are known to impede both effective parenting behavior and child development, such as lower maternal education, limited financial resources, limited paternal involvement, and increased family conflict. The present study examined the impact of teenage motherhood, family characteristics, maternal mental health, and parenting on the developmental outcomes of three-year-old children. The sample consisted of 2,108 children and their mothers who were enrolled in the National Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project. Adolescent mothers accounted for approximately 39% of all participants in this study. Developmental outcomes for children were directly assessed using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development—II, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test—III, and the Aggressive Behavior subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist. Information about family characteristics, family functioning, and maternal well-being was collected via parent interview. Mother-child interactions were videotaped and analyzed to provide information regarding parenting behaviors. Results of this study revealed that children of adolescent mothers had lower scores on measures of cognitive and language development than their peers who were born to older mothers. Predictors examined here at the level of the child, the mother, the family, and parenting were differently associated with each of the three developmental outcomes for children. Both cognitive and language development were independently predicted by the race/ethnicity of the family and stimulation of language and learning in the home environment. In addition to these shared predictors, cognitive development was predicted by receipt of Early Head Start services and family receipt of public assistance. Receptive language development was also predicted by child gender. Aggressive behavior, on the other hand, was not predicted by any of the demographic or parenting variables included in the model and was solely predicted by indicators of parenting stress. The current study has several important implications for the field of psychology. Most notably, the findings highlight the significant negative impacts of poverty and demographic risk on the development of young children regardless of the mother's age at the time of the child's birth. Prevention and early intervention programs are sorely needed to mitigate these impacts and to promote positive development.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Developmental psychology|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Lodise, Michelle, "Adolescent motherhood and developmental outcomes of children in Early Head Start: The role of family characteristics, maternal well-being, and parenting" (2008). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3321229.



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