Last week the New York Times published an article about the effect of MTV’s reality shows 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 on combating teen pregnancy. While the article acknowledged that some have challenged the franchise for glamorizing teen pregnancy by turning these girls into celebrities, it overwhelmingly asserts that the shows have had a positive effect by drawing attention to the issue and providing a vehicle for discussion. Still, I’m not sure I’m ready to jump on the “Yay, Teen Mom is the best for sex ed!” bandwagon.
Here are some off-the-top-of-my-head reactions to the piece. I should also preface these by admitting that I am an avid viewer of these shows.
- It’s great that the shows are providing entry points for conversation for both parents and educators, but are the majority of viewers actually having those conversations?
- A friend of mine who is the mother of teenage girls noted a lack of empathy that some teens have for the girls on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. While some people (myself included) do react emotionally to the girls’ hard-luck stories, others have little pity or sympathy, often assuming that the girls were “stupid” or “careless” or “sluts” and look what happened.
- The show doesn’t actually provide sex ed information, just says “Teen pregnancy is 100% preventable, go to our website.” If the programs were truly meant to prevent pregnancy, wouldn’t they want to include real sex ed info as much as possible?
- The show does not do enough to address abuse, physical or emotional. While MTV did react to the physical abuse depicted in the first season of Teen Mom, they have not addressed different forms of emotional abuse that aren’t hard to pick out, including emotional abuse from boyfriends (like Adam in Teen Mom 2) and extremely unhealthy parent-child relationships.
- Dr. Drew is a manipulative creep and should not be involved. The New York Times calls him a “hand-holder,” but after watching one too many finale specials, his involvement makes me cringe. He consistently encourages the girls to try to make it work with the baby-daddies, even if they don’t want a romantic relationship with them, and even when the baby-daddies are deadbeats or abusive. This is not the message that teen viewers should walk away with at the end of the season.
- While educators use 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 in classrooms with little or no opposition, the one-time special No Easy Decision, in which a girl chooses abortion, is not used in this manner. One teacher cites not wanting to “test the limits.” While the No Easy Decision special was super well done – seriously, I loved it – it was only aired once at an odd time and clearly no one is using it to spark discussion. There is no question that as a franchise, these shows ignore abortion as much as possible in order to remain “neutral,” which really isn’t very neutral at all.