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Street-Level Youth Media is a non-profit, media arts literacy organization serving Chicago's youth.  We teach audio engineering, mixing, video production, digital photography, online journalism, and more.  If you are between the ages of 12 through 24, all of our programs and services are free.

If you live in Chicago and are between 12 - 24 years old, come take part in one or all of our media arts programs, book a private studio session, use our computer lab or join one of our clubs.  We also host an open-mic on the first Friday of each month.  

WHEN I GROW UP: The Uncertain Future Of Children of Teenage Parents

Mild Sauce

A Youth-Run Webzine From Chicago.

WHEN I GROW UP: The Uncertain Future Of Children of Teenage Parents


Shaylene Alanis,

Kristin Heinichen

Having a child during adolescence can make an already-difficult situation even more problematic. But children of teen mothers bear the greatest burden. Sons of teenage mothers are most likely to end up in prison, while daughters have a higher risk of also becoming teenage mothers.

Jaylene, 18, is the mother of both a boy, Julian, and a girl, Elina, to whom she gave birth this year just a few days after her 18th birthday. As the mother of two small children she will be busy. What remains to be seen is if her parenting will prevent her kids from becoming a statistic.

Jaylene had her daughter Elina during the time this piece was being written. The writers attempted to schedule another interview following the birth, but were unable to make contact with her. Complications arose during the birth and the health of her daughter remains unknown. Another reason for lost contact could be that Jaylene is experiencing what most mothers of newborns and toddlers experience: exhaustion. However, what is clear from the time spent with Jaylene is that she is a loving mother who hopes to do right by her children. And while she was unable to comment on the following statistics that include her children, we are confident as professional journalists that she would take the position of concern and mindfulness.

Jaylene had Julian at 14. Now at 2 ½ years old, he has become an older brother to Elina.

“If it wasn’t for my son, I would probably be doing drugs or in a bad place.” Jaylene recalled.

She considered having an abortion with her first child.

“It was a thought, but I never went through with it because my family doesn’t believe in that. I was just scared and I didn’t know what to do and how I was going to support the baby,” Jaylene said.

When 14-year-old Jaylene announced her pregnancy, her friends and family were rattled. And reasonably so, these were her formative years. It was a time for exploring not planning a family.

“Everybody had a heart attack when they found out, but they ended up supporting me,” Jaylene said.

The majority of teenage boys that become fathers abandon their girlfriends. The responsibility of parenthood then falls upon the shoulders of the mothers. But as it turned out, Jaylene not only has the support of the father, he has also proposed.

The father was originally living in Puerto Rico and had only come to Chicago for a brief vacation. Once he found out about Jaylene’s pregnancy, her fiancée returned stateside and took on the role of father and fiancé. At the time of the first child, they were a two-income household and they were renting an apartment from a member of Jaylene’s side of the family.

Up until two months ago, Jaylene was working full-time for a company. They laid her off just before giving birth, which created a new set of problems. While her fiancé continues to work the loss of her income forced them to move in with her grandmother. The couple and their two children now share one bedroom in a five room house.

Though they don’t have much and are struggling, Jaylene expressed contentment about her growing family.

“Now, I’m excited that I’ve had a daughter...It’s all coming together,” Jaylene said prior to giving birth.

According to the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, “Children of teen mothers have a 50 percent chance of repeating a grade or even not graduating from high school.  They are also most likely to live in poverty than kids being born to older parents.”

Teenage parents never gave much thought to how their lives would be affected by becoming a parent at such an early age, and of those that try going back to take GED classes, only 2 percent of them earn a college degree by the age of 30.

Jaylene, like many others in her situation, vowed to return to high school but never did. And regardless of her not finishing her education, she sees her pregnancy “as a blessing.” But while Jaylene has made peace with her decision, the problem could be that she’s including her daughter in the cycle.

Jaylene and her fiancée know what it’s like to live their teenage years as parents to not only one, but two kids. And even though the cards are stacked against them, they continue to work together.

“It’s not been easy, but we’re doing it,” Jaylene concluded.