There’s been a decrease in teen pregnancies, and apparently, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are to thank for this. In a new study published and released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, (courtesy of Wellesley College and the University of Maryland) demonstrated and analyzed how exposure to the MTV shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” (via data from Nielsen ratings, Google and Twitter) could have affected teen birth rates since 2009.
Their study found that these shows led to more searches regarding birth control, and abortion. It also claims that tweets of the same nature ultimately led to a decline in teen births (5.7%) in the 18 months after the show was initially introduced. According to the study, the decline accounts for “…one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.”
Many are touting this as a victory, and praising the show for it’s forward thinking, and hard work. However, I’m not one of them.
It’s quite a stretch, in my opinion, to credit the decline in teen pregnancy to a reality show that has also been shown to give a false idea of what parenting as a teen as actually like. Any woman who has parented in her teens can and will tell you that the show gives a rather narrow perspective of what it’s truly like to be in that scenario. Furthermore, it’s widely known that these girls are paid for their appearances on the show, making anywhere between $50-60k per season, a major fact that shows that they are not your typical teen mother. These are not girls who are dealing with the hard realities of teen pregnancy or even teen parenting; they are pseudo-celebrities that are having their misadventures documented for the general population’s consumption.
The harsh reality is that these young women are being exploited during an incredibly vulnerable time in their life. Of course, while it can be argued that they signed up for this show, (and they did), MTV should be ashamed of themselves for seeking out young women who do find themselves pregnant so they can profit. They loosely use the term documentary when describing the shows. Each show is heavily edited, and as even been accused of being scripted. Generally speaking, it’s not a great indicator of what it’s truly like to be pregnant as a teen. MTV has also been criticized for their involvement with Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency featured in the first season. The agency is known to heavily coerce young women into adoption, and of course, the idea that they were working simultaneously with MTV caused an uproar in the adoption community.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the decline in teen pregnancy. I just refuse to congratulate a television show that has taken advantage of young women in a precarious situation. The show, even if it’s minutely responsible for the decline, still documents an inaccurate depiction of what it’s like to be a teen mother. It’s still riddled with stereotypes of fathers who take no responsibility, extended family who can’t seem to get it together, along with subtle hints regarding substance abuse, and the very idea that parenting as a teen is little or no work. All of this is happening while these young women have cameras stuck in their face, documenting every single moment, then promptly edited for the dramatic effect of reality television. It’s continuing to stick to the old stigmas regarding teen pregnancy, and then it serves up false pretenses regarding parenting. MTV dresses up the shame they direct toward teen mothers, but it’s there, just carefully edited, and delivered.
Positively, this study did show us is that teens are actively searching out information about their sex lives. It shows that the internet, and even social media can be an excellent tool to begin showing them the resources they need. It shows that teenagers want to have these conversations. It shows that we can and should be giving them every opportunity to find these resources so they can make positive sexual health and activity decisions. I can celebrate that, because ultimately, education and access is what will directly contribute to the decline in teen pregnancy.
A show that shames teen parents, and perpetuates stereotypes for entertainment purposes should not be standard we accept, nor should we be giving them the space to take credit for the decline in teen pregnancy. We can thank them for starting the conversation, but in no way should we be patting them on the back for causing an actual decline.