How Reality Television Distorts Our Perception of Teen Pregnancy

Updated on January 5, 2018

Teen Pregnancy In The Media

Today, teen pregnancy seems to be a topic of discussion a lot more often than it has been in the past. People seem to be more open to discussing teen pregnancy and interested in how they can help to prevent it. For the teens who are pregnant, there are more resources available for them to use. While some teenage parents may not find their situation ideal, the stigma of being ashamed or shunned for having a child at a young age has definitely subsided.

The media plays a big part in this. By creating an environment where teen pregnancy is reported on openly, people are able to come to terms with the fact that it is a real issue for a lot of young women in the United States and not something that we can ignore. A big turning point in the public's view on this topic came when the MTV show "16 & Pregnant" aired in 2009. Despite the fact that the initial reaction of most viewers seemed to be shock, considering the issue of teen pregnancy was a sort of taboo before, the show became a hit. It gained a large following and eventually lead to the spinoff series, Teen Mom.



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MTV's 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom

In 2009, MTV came out with a reality show that was unlike any other. "16 & Pregnant" followed the lives of several teenage girls during their pregnancy in a documentary-like format. The show included struggles during the pregnancy, relationship conflicts between the couple as well as the daughter and her family, financial difficulties, and the weeks following the birth of the baby.

The show became so popular that MTV decided to bring back four of the girls from "16 & Pregnant" to create a spinoff series called "Teen Mom". This show followed up on each of the four girls, taking a closer look at what their life was like as a teenage mother. This show also became successful, leading to two more series- "Teen Mom 2" and "Teen Mom 3".

Today, "Teen Mom" is now on its eighth season. The show and the girls who star in it have gained a large following with devoted fans. However, this doesn't mean that the show was never a topic of controversy. Many people still debate whether the show has done more harm than good when it comes to teen pregnancy prevention.

"And the fact that many of the show’s stars become celebrities in their own right — gracing the cover of People magazine — doesn’t hurt the impression that having a child while in high school is one way to get attention."-Time, 2014

Controversy Surrounding "Teen Mom"

To this day, everyone seems to have an opinion on whether the show "Teen Mom" is a good thing or a bad thing for teenagers to watch. Some will argue that the show makes young girls want to take more preventative measures against pregnancy because they see the everyday struggles that the girls on the show endure. Struggling to finish school, having limited time to go out and socialize, figuring out how to raise a child while still growing up yourself- these are all things that the show documents.

On the other hand, some people believe that the fame and fortune achieved by these girls just for being on a reality TV show promotes teen pregnancy. Most of the girls on the show have gone on to write books, start businesses, or even done some more questionable things that have led to a large paycheck. A lot of the girls are well-known household names, even to people who have never seen the show. People who view the show from this perspective feel that young girls will see the success of the women on the show and see an opportunity to follow in their paths by getting pregnant. Some people may also argue that the girls on the show continue getting pregnant and having more children, therefore not learning from their own mistakes. If the girls on the show continue having children, can being a teen mom really be that bad?

The controversy over the show is understandable. Some of the situations that the show documents would be realistic to a normal teen mom and should make young girls want to avoid putting themselves in the same situation at all costs. However, being on a popular MTV show will inevitably result in fame and a decent paycheck. Perhaps the real question should not be if the show is promoting or preventing teen pregnancy, but rather, if teens can understand that getting pregnant and ending up rich and famous like the girls on the show is not reality.

Teen Pregnancy Trends Over The Years

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Regardless of the controversy surrounding the show, teen pregnancy rates in the United States has seen a significant decrease since the show first aired. Though much research has been conducted, it has yet to be proven that the show is the reason for this decrease. However, the National Bureau of Economic Research did find the rate of teen pregnancy to decline more quickly in regions where teenagers tended to watch MTV more frequently.

Overall, Teen Mom and other reality TV shows that depict what it's like to have a baby as a teenager, don't seem to be hurting anyone in the long run. While it is unclear whether the show is actually helping to prevent teen pregnancy, it certainly is not promoting it based on the current statistics.

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