Teen Mom Reality TV: A Way to Reduce Teen Pregnancy?

How did 21 year old mom Amber Portwood make $140,000 in six months? She had a contract with MTV to be on the reality tv show, Teen Mom. Like other young women on other teen mom reality shows… like Teen Mom 2, and 16 and Pregnant, she is a young mother who became famous for making an “unplanned detour into parenthood.” Is this really a good thing for young women? I sure didn’t think so until I read this.

Lauren Dolgen, senior vice president of series development at MTV and creator of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, says yes. She says she created these shows as a way to make an impact on what she believes is a “preventable epidemic.” After learning that 750,000 15-19 year olds become pregnant in the U.S. she wanted to create shows that did not sugar coat the realities of teen pregnancy and motherhood.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, it works. It reported that “4 in 10 teenagers who watch an episode of 16 and Pregnant talk to a parent afterwards,” and 90% “think teen pregnancy is harder than they imagined before watching the series.” And despite these series, over the last 20 years, teen pregnancy has consistently declined.

Young people may realize parenthood is harder than they thought, but is this enough to counter the other message that comes with these shows—that if you get pregnant you can become famous. They too, if they play their pregnancy cards right, can make thousands of dollars and become tabloid staples like the stars on these shows.

Ticket to fame?
Ticket to fame?

In today’s times, the lure of fame is very powerful, and the preventative intent behind these shows might compete with our “fame” culture. Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, in their book, The Narcissism Epidemic, discuss today’s “self-branding” celebrity culture. We see all over the place in the reality TV world that becoming a reality TV star is a way to self-brand yourself. But when teen moms try to self-brand in this way to become famous, it changes their lives forever.

On one hand they see the hard realities of young parenthood. On the other, they see their peers who are famous and all over magazine covers, news stories and who have get paid more money than most young people can imagine having.

What’s more powerful? Seeing the reality or pathway to fame? I remain mixed that these shows actually make a positive impact on the teen pregnancy prevention. Let’s hope the reality does win out more than not, because  with millions of viewers each week, these shows aren’t going anywhere anytime soon…what is your take?


11 thoughts on “Teen Mom Reality TV: A Way to Reduce Teen Pregnancy?

  1. I think I’m torn, but I lean primarily toward “teens will think getting pregnant is a good way to land a Reality TV gig.”

    A more useful program was the one that selected three teenage couples considering getting pregnant and giving them, at different phases, a newborn, a toddler, and an older child to try to raise for a period of time.

    Something that is more educational in its feel – and less Reality TV – would, in my opinion, have a better shot of teaching teens rather than making them crave a part.

  2. The problem with glamorizing a negative such as teen pregnancy is that the glamorization is in itself a positive, some will think.

    What we need is a show which glamorizes a positive. How about a teenaged girl who gets pregnant, has an abortion, and goes on to lead a successful life because she did not screw up her childhood. Maybe the girl goes on to become a valedictorian because she was able to continue spending her time studying instead of being burdened with an infant. Or she gets into Harvard or Yale and makes a 6-figure income soon after graduating because she wasn’t burdened with a kid. [Of course, the anti-choice lobby would go crazy!]

    Glamorizing a positive will have the two-pronged effect of the positive itself along with the glamorization.

  3. I was talking with a mother the other day about kids’ TV programming. When I was a kid (think teen years), most of the shows I watched were about other kids going to school, hanging out with friends, dealing with siblings and family drama, and working at summer/after-school jobs. A lot of these shows are enjoying new popularity–Nick shows like “Clarissa Explains it All” or “Hey Dude” or “Fifteen” or whatever. But today, according to this mom, a lot of scripted TV shows for teens and tweens center around becoming famous online or on TV, often just for the sake of being famous. She mentioned several compelling examples of them, on Disney and Nick channels, mostly, but I’m not familiar with these shows. I believe her because she’s smart and because I think we’re already seeing that many young people have taken these “lessons” to heart. Pop culture is sending messages to kids that being famous is the goal, no matter what the reason–you don’t have to be talented or smart, and you don’t have to achieve anything; instead, you can just grow up to have a sex tape or you can get pregnant now. The implications that this has for our future and our society are disturbing. So yes, this is my long way of saying that I believe that these shows are telling teens that pregnancy can be their ticket to fame, and I think that message is seductive to many of them.

  4. While there might be some teens tempted to get pregnant just to become famous on the MTV shows “16 and Pregnant” or “Teen Mom,” I think showing the hardships of teen pregnancy and teen motherhood will be more of a deterrent as time goes on. Teen girls who watch one or both of these programs may be more likely to think “geez, do I really want to go through THAT?” and then answer, Heck, NO!” That would make it easier for them to say an emphatic “no” to boyfriends who pressure them for sex, knowing what it can and does lead to.

    While some believe these programs “glamorize teen pregnancy/motherhood,” I have to respectfully disagree. I tend to doubt that any of the girls currently on one or both shows deliberately got pregnant just so they could become famous, although I know I could be wrong on this point. If any of them did get pregnant on purpose, however, I suspect they may have deep regrets about that decision now.

    1. Susan, I hope you are right that these kinds of shows ultimately do more to turn yourng women off to the idea of having a child. I like deegee’s idea of also having shows that glamorize making the decision not to have the child and look where their lives took them…and yes however, it would send anti-choice audiences through the roof! Showing more of the positive, not just the negative theoretically makes a lot of sense.

  5. Hi Laura, thanks for replying. I like Deegee’s idea as well. I hope MTV would consider producing such a program about teen girls who decide not to continue their pregnancies and do well in school and afterward as a result.

    Of course the anti-choice crowd would be hostile to such a program, but it doesn’t take much to get them mad anyway. I would definitely be a regular viewer if such a program was produced.

  6. My issue with the showing girls that abortion is “good” is that there will be higher rates of abortion. I am very anti-abortion and think that it’s stupid and selfish of people to get one. My mom had me at 14. And you know what? She is doing great. She got her GED and continued on to college to get a great job in a doctor’s office where she is now a manager. However, I was very well educated on the topic of teen pregnancy and knew the hardships it brought my mom. By knowing this, I was very careful to use condoms and birth control so I didn’t have my son until I wanted to get pregnant. Also, talk to anyone from an abortion clinic and they will tell you that getting an abortion messes with a person more than adoption. Giving people the portrayal of abortion being a good thing is SO f***ed up!!! I like Catelynn and Tyler’s story on Teen Mom. They are a couple that gave their daughter up for adoption, and now Catelynn works with other teen moms and educates them on the topic of adoption. Abortion stops a beating heart. Therefore it is murder. I understand accidents happen, but that’s why you should always use both condoms and birth control in case of a mishap. And if you can’t have a baby that badly, don’t have sex. There are other ways to be intimate and get pleasure. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

    1. Pamela, Thanks so much for writing in. You and your mom are one of the lucky ones. Many young women who become mothers early in life have a very rough go of it, and as you know it changes your life forever. Better education about birth control and encouragement for both young men and women to use it remains so needed!

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