Is reality television becoming the world’s number one birth control for teens? Well, according to the two separate studies conducted by the University of Maryland and Wellesley College, the reality shows aired on MTV, Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant are responsible for the decline in the teenage births by 5.7 percent as from 2009. Based on the data from CDC, the U.S. teenage pregnancies dropped drastically between 2008 and 2012. All indications show that this was the timing of the shows, and therefore, they are undoubtedly responsible for the drop. Teen Mom is a reality show that was created by MTV in response to the criticism that they are glamorizing teen pregnancy. Teen Mom is a reality TV that shows how the lives of teen mothers proceed after delivery and how they cope up with the daily stress of always attending to their babies. It is a spin-off show from the 16 and Pregnant, which initially traced the lives of featured pregnant teen throughout the entire nine months until birth. This paper examines the influences of reality TV show Teen Mom on teen pregnancy and unsafe sex.
Some critics have mentioned that putting pregnant teenagers and moms on national television is a reward to them not to their peers. The reason for such a claim is that the shows give impressions that it’s fulfilling to be pregnant as a teen and enjoy the unconditional love of the newborn. Some of these critics are the researchers from the Indiana University that found that Teen Mom not only encouraged unsafe sex among teenagers but also dispensed the claims that being a teen mom is a difficult experienced (Trudeau 7). In their views, the show together with 16 and Pregnant did not have any positive impact on the teen viewers. Although one cannot discredit these findings for being contradictory, one fundamental fact that remains is that the reality TV shows on young moms do influence teen pregnancy either positively or negatively.
Undoubtedly, the creators of the Teen Mom show intended to give a real coverage inside the world of teen parenting mainly targeting the young women viewers to desist from irresponsible sexual behavior. Before the show was created, teen girls were known for creating “packs” in which the members would engage in unprotected sex so that they get pregnant. This happens after one of their friends becomes pregnant and everybody in the pack being to admire the perceived quality of life of the young mom. In reality, that does not happen because teen mothers struggle with raising their babies at a time they have to be in school finishing up high school or college. Some of these young mothers are usually left on their own as the boyfriends or whoever is responsible for pregnancy disappears. Studies have reinforced this fact by revealing that two-thirds of the unmarried teen mothers end up being poor because of the failure to complete their education. While still in the company of other girls at the school of college, some teen girls think that it is fun and fulfilling experience to be a mother. However, after falling into the trap, it dwells on them that things are not the way they were cracked up to be.
Teen Mom depicts the real struggles that a typical, inexperienced teen mother go through every day. They are forced to spend many sleepless nights tending to their babies, hire babysitters, look for alternative sources of income for upkeep as well as being compelled to balance motherhood and school life. These are realities of the study conducted by Indiana University overlooked when analyzing the Teen Mom show by terming it “unrealistic, glamorized view of pregnancy and teen parenthood.” However, the researchers’ criticisms of the show are to some extent acceptable because the real life of the teen parents if far much worse than those teen mothers featured on the show. The teen moms became overnight celebrities and began earning higher incomes from appearing magazine covers and popular events. In addition, the show did not have an adequate representation of race and socioeconomic status, which are real influences to teen pregnancies. The stars in the show were generally coming from a white, middle-income background and that did not financial hardships of parents from other ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
Before Teen Mom show came on TV, the National Bureau of Economic Research had conducted a study on the influence of 16 and Pregnant on sex education. The findings revealed that the show was encouraging teen girls always to have safer sex. The study made use of the geographical data collected from areas that showed increased viewership of the show. These areas were identified using Google Trends and Social Media reactions of viewers to the show (Kearney and Levine 4). Hence, the study concluded that the show had a positive impact on teen pregnancy by raising awareness among the teenagers on the use of birth control methods and teen parenting expenses. On the downside, the study did not highlight the fact that the show did not enlighten the teens about the dangers of unprotected sex other than pregnancy. One of the dangers is the possibility of contracting and spreading sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, syphilis, and gonorrhea.
Other influencing factors to the decline in teen pregnancy
Even as much credit has been given to the Teen Mom show for the decline in teen pregnancies, it does not work alone to this effect. Various studies have shown that the state of the economy in the period 2008-2010 had a huge impact on many aspects of individual lives including teen births. The economic meltdown made it difficult for people to earn a living, leave alone having leisure time to engage in sex. It was hard to find or keep a job, and that might have influenced the decisions made by teen girls with regards to getting a baby. To the parents, it became financially straining to fend for the family, and that might have discouraged the girls from engaging in irresponsible sexual behavior that would have led to pregnancy. Some experts have argued that during this economic recession, teens became conscious about using birth controls and aware of the benefits of having protected sex.
Educators have also weighed in the discussion about the impact of Teen Mom on teen pregnancy. They highlight that the show only gave a false impression of being a teen mother which created a false perception in the majority of the teen viewers. It is not clear why the MTV selectively chose the kind of information to feed the viewers. It did not feature experts to add weight on the every episode on air so that some clarifications and reinforcement of the message take place. It was vital for the producers of the show to have an active platform where the viewers would send questions from previous episodes for an expert to respond. This would have been the most effective way of backing up the key message in the show.
Prevalence of teen pregnancies and childbearing
Although the rate of teenage pregnancy in the United States has decreased to its lowest level in nearly four decades, it remains the highest among other industrialized countries of the world. It is estimated that 67.8 per 1000 women aged 15-19, that is approximately 750,000 teenage girls become pregnant annually (Finer and Zolna 478). This is a huge segment of the female population considering the fact that there are several awareness campaigns to that effect. The high rate of teenage pregnancy can partly be attributed to an increasingly sexualized society where children as young as 12 and 13 engage in sex. Studies have shown that 60 percent of teenagers have sex more than once before reaching their twentieth birthday. With that trend, most of the girls get in the risk of becoming pregnant of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Teen pregnancy has serious consequences that manifest later in their lives. First, pregnant teens are more likely to delay childbearing than women because of the problems such as miscarriages, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths. Second, teen mothers are more likely not to complete high school and graduate than their peers. As a result, the end up living in poverty and rely on welfare. Third, the babies of teen mothers normally have low birth weight, experience health and developmental challenges and are vulnerable to negligence or abuse. Lastly, teenage pregnancy is costing the government huge amounts of finances in terms of public assistance, child health care, and foster care. This money would have otherwise been channeled into other development programs in the education and health sectors.
Finer, Lawrence B., and Mia R. Zolna. “Unintended pregnancy in the United States: incidence and disparities, 2006.” Contraception 84.5 (2011): 478-485.
Kearney, Melissa S., and Phillip B. Levine. Media influences on social outcomes: the impact of MTV’s 16 and pregnant on teen childbearing. No. w19795. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014.
Trudeau, Jennifer. “The role of new media on teen sexual behaviors and fertility outcomes—the case of 16 and Pregnant.” Southern Economic Journal (2015).