Growing up as a child, I always heard over-exaggerated reports warning parents about the dangers of television, and how there are a plethora of programs that are terrible influences for children. No one talked about the good influences that might arise from television – until now.
MTV certainly isn’t a bastion of morality or quality television programming, but it might not be quite as desolate as many people – such as myself – often imagine it is. Early last week, MTV published an article on its website about a new report, published Jan. 13 by the National Bureau of Economic Research,which cites MTV’s popular show, “16 and Pregnant” and the spin-off series, “Teen Mom,” as causes for reduction in teen pregnancy.
According to the abstract of the report, the researchers found “‘16 and Pregnant’ led to more searches and tweets regarding birth control and abortion, and ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its introduction. This accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.”
According to the report, teen pregnancy as a whole fell in the U.S. an average of 2.5 percent each year from 1991 to 2008, and 7.5 percent from 2008 to 2012. Researchers used TV ratings, Google Trends and Twitter to identify how popular the show was and to find correlation between searches and tweets about birth control during times that the show aired.
Now I’m aware that correlation does not equal causation, but nevertheless, the results of the study are quite impressive, and after looking at the report myself, it’s reasonable to believe “16 and Pregnant” did have at least some impact on teen pregnancy. In the most recent data available from 2012, teen pregnancy was cited at 2.94 percent in women ages 15 to 19, a drastic change from 6.18 percent in 1991.
This news comes a shock to me, because until now I found almost no redeeming qualities in MTV’s programming. Sure, I’ve watched “Jersey Shore” as a guilty pleasure a few times, but that doesn’t mean it was a good show. The closest MTV’s programming has ever gotten to being legitimately interesting to me was with “The Buried Life” and “Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous,” two shows I believe had great content and messages. Since both of these shows have been canceled, I’ve only grown to be disappointed and annoyed with the network.
As much as I’ve disliked MTV, “16 and Pregnant” and the “Teen Mom” series, it appears I was the one in the wrong. I held a popular view that shows like “16 and Pregnant” did nothing but glorify teen pregnancy and satisfy Americans’ boredom by filling their time with mindless drama.
While it very well might have been a mindless guilty pleasure for some, the shows clearly made a difference in the lives of many teenagers and young adults. I can’t believe I agree with this, but after the results of the study, I can now say that I stand behind shows like “16 and Pregnant.” I guess you could say that kids who were sheltered from shows like “Teen Mom” were possibly at more risk than those who did watch it.
Another fascinating aspect of this study is that based on the results, it seems to suggest that television influence doesn’t just affect young children. The people thought to be affected by “16 and Pregnant” were teenagers. I never thought shows could really influence me that much anymore, but I might be wrong. Presumably bad programming might very well influence older people, particularly young adults. It seems the threshold for influence is a lot higher than I thought.
Seeing a report about the positive influences of television, based on empirical data, was refreshing to see. It always seems like people only talk about the bad influences of television, based mostly on the speculation of overzealous talk show hosts.
However, it is apparent that those hosts have some legitimacy – if “16 and Pregnant” can have a good effect on teenagers and young adults, there are certainly shows that can have bad influences. The real question we need to be asking is how much of an influence that is and whether or not it’s actually dangerous.
Shows like “Jersey Shore,” “Snooki & JWOWW” and “The Real World,” should have just as much potential as “16 and Pregnant” to influence viewers, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, inspirational shows on MTV like “The Buried Life” or another favorite of mine, “World of Jenks” are often canceled too quickly or are few and far between typical, immature reality shows.
Now, I’m all for free speech, so I respect MTV’s right to put out whatever content it decides to put out, but after seeing the results of this study it’s interesting to wonder: If “Teen Mom” had such a positive impact, what is the impact of MTV, or any major network, as a whole?