Language Challenges for Children of Teens

Children born to teen mothers experienced some delays in language development

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Having a baby as a teenager can present various challenges to these new, young moms. Those challenges may influence the way their children develop as well.

A recent study found that children born to teen moms tended to fall behind in their cognitive skills, such as vocabulary and spatial skills.

However, most of the delay in their skills appears more related to socioeconomic and lifestyle factors in their families.

Only vocabulary development seemed somewhat delayed after researchers considered other factors.

Poorer vocabulary development might result from mothers who do not speak as frequently with their children, the authors suggested.

"Talk to your baby frequently to build vocabulary."

This study, led by Julia Morinis, MD, of the National Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford in the UK and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, looked at the brain development of children born to teen moms.

The researchers followed 12,021 babies born between 2000 and 2001 until the children were 5 years old.

Of these children, 5 percent were born to mothers who were 18 years old or younger when they gave birth.

The children were all assessed for their cognitive development using a standard tool in the United Kingdom.

The researchers found that the children born to teen moms had lower cognitive scores than the children born to mothers who were aged 25 to 34 when they gave birth.

The children born to teen moms showed a delay of approximately 11 months in their verbal ability, seven months in their non-verbal ability and four months in their spatial ability.

Then the researchers adjusted their analysis to account for socioeconomic differences among the families and pregnancy risks among the mothers.

The factors the researchers included in their adjustment included the following:

  • number of days the mother spent in the hospital after giving birth
  • how many children were in her household
  • whether the child was a first-born
  • whether the pregnancy was planned and mom's feelings about the pregnancy
  • how far along the mother was when she found out she was pregnant
  • whether the mother smoked or drank alcohol during pregnancy
  • whether the mother had prenatal care or classes
  • how the baby was delivered
  • how long the baby was breastfed
  • mother's income, education, occupation, mental health and self-esteem
  • type of childcare and early education the child had
  • whether the child lived with his or her grandparents and/or father
  • how involved the mother did activities like reading, singing and counting with her child

After taking into account all these factors, the delays in non-verbal and spatial ability were no longer apparent.

A delay in verbal ability — equivalent to being about five months behind in development — did remain for children born to teen mothers after this adjustment.

The researchers therefore concluded that most of the differences in cognitive abilities between children born to teen moms and children born to older moms related to the families' socioeconomics and the mothers' pregnancy health.

However, even after these were taken into account, the children born to teen moms still appeared to fall behind a little in verbal abilities.

"Language development occurs through interactions with a child’s surroundings, stimulation and social engagement," the researchers wrote. "Any limitation in these areas may limit a child’s ability to develop appropriate language."

They noted that perhaps teen moms talk less often with their children than older moms.

"It is possible that the residual effect of young maternal age on the naming vocabulary subscale may be due to a lower level of verbal interaction in the teenage mother households," the researchers wrote. "These findings highlight the importance of early mother-child interaction for children’s language development."

These findings match up with the findings of other research, according to Joan Baran, PhD, a psychologist specializing in young children and director of the community clinic at Children's Health Council in California.

"Research has shown teen mothers tend to be less responsive and verbally stimulating than older mothers and this article demonstrates that impact: their children are less verbal and have smaller vocabularies," Dr. Baran said.

"Teen mothers tend to be more isolated and lose a crucial social support network; a teen mother's friends are less interested spending time with her and baby," Dr. Baran said. "Providing training, education, support and practice in responsive parenting to teen mothers is crucial in fostering development of their children and promoting a better long-term outcome."

The study was published October 16 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. No conflicts of interest were reported.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK and by a scholarship from the Clarendon Fund to the lead author at University of Oxford.

Review Date: 
October 16, 2013
Last Updated:
October 20, 2013