“You seriously don’t have a soul if you watch ‘Teen Mom.'”
I overheard that statement on campus during a conversation about the show. I’ve found that people either love or hate the MTV reality show, which follows the lives of four troubled teenage mothers. Everyone has an opinion about it, and I admit that I’m a fan.
“It’s not doing anything but making teen pregnancy more popular,” is something I hear every time “Teen Mom” comes up in conversation. But I just don’t get it. What is it about the show that glamorizes teen pregnancy? The countless times Amber swings at on-again, off-again fiancé Gary on national television? Is it Maci having to file for child support for her young son, Bentley? Or maybe it’s Catelynn and Tyler, who gave up their daughter so she could have the life they knew they couldn’t provide?
I cannot pick out one situation in the show that would motivate a teen to have a baby, and it doesn’t seem like a lot of teens can pick one out either. In a public opinion poll conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 79 percent of girls and 67 percent of boys said watching shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” make them think about the risks of getting pregnant and ways to avoid it. In a separate study by the same group, 93 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement: “I learned that teen parenthood is harder than I imagined from these episodes.”
The show’s influence doesn’t seem to stop at the end of an episode, either. Seventy-six percent of adolescents polled said seeing sex, love and relationships in the media can be a good way to start conversation about sex with parents, and 48 percent said they actually had a conversation with their parents because of something they saw in the media. As it’s often difficult and embarrassing for children and parents to discuss anything related to sex, this study offers some promising news.
Teenagers don’t like to be preached at and most won’t listen when their parents or teachers do. “Teen Mom” excels in this area because teens are sharing life lessons with their peers through experience. It’s not an in-your-face way of teaching. It’s entertaining TV that’s capable of sending a strong message.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has paid for reproduction of the series so it can be used by organizations trying to reduce teen pregnancy. Even schools are taking notice of the show, and many are using it as a part of their sex education classes, with success.
I don’t find “Teen Mom” flawless, however. The show has turned the young moms into celebrities — just look on the cover of any gossip magazine. The mothers also get paid — MTV is a television network trying to make money, after all. It’s difficult to find official information when it comes to money, but the young women don’t seem to have access to the cash as of now. All the parents have money problems, especially Farrah, who was the victim of a scam on Craigslist and asked for more shifts at work to make up for the loss. We know the moms are being compensated for airing their lives on television, but I don’t think it makes their experiences any less real. Money or no money, Catelynn and Tyler will still have to wait until the next visiting period to see the daughter they gave up for adoption, and Amber will always have to deal with the fact that she didn’t graduate high school. Money doesn’t fix everything, and I think teens watching the show realize that.
Even though I admit MTV overplays a lot of the situations on commercials, the show is about real human life. There’s no sugarcoating — viewers see Amber yelling “Daddy’s a cheater” at her young daughter, Leah, and hitting and calling Gary names right in front of her child. In one episode, Farrah leaves her baby unattended in the hallway of her apartment complex while she works in her new home, and in another, her child suffers from a fall when Farrah leaves her unattended on a bed. I’d say these pitfalls are all better forms of birth control than the average sex education class.
You might hold a different opinion of the show, but know that it has an impact on teens. America has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world, and any method that informs teens is welcome. I appreciate what the show is trying to do — and I’m pretty sure I still have a soul.