Lately everywhere you look there is a story about one of the moms from MTV’s popular show “Teen Mom”. The topic of kids having kids is nothing new, but reality television has taken it to a whole new level. In 2007, there was a drama on ABC Family called “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” about a teenage girl and her family as they dealt with her pregnancy. That same year, an award winning film was released about a young girl who was pregnant called "Juno". These shows brought the topic of teen pregnancy into people’s homes, but there was still the element of acting.
The new show on MTV is very different. In case you have not heard of the show, which on average has 2.8 million viewers per episode, let me give you a recap. It is a reality show that follows four teenage girls as their lives change from the carefree days of a high school student to the role of becoming a teenage mom. Each season, the cameras follow four girls as their stories unfold. So far we have seen the emotional struggles of a young mom who gave her child up for adoption and a teen mom who gave birth to twins and is now facing the prospect that something is medically wrong with one of them. Viewers have seen a mom become physically violent with her boyfriend while her baby is in the next room and seen how hard it is for each teen mom to complete high school. There have been verbal arguments between the parents of these teen girls and each teen mom seems to be struggling with the reality that the teen dad is not ready for forever and that friendships and free time take a back seat to the baby.
The first time I saw the show there was a part of me that was angry that MTV would even put a show like this on the air. I was 24 when I had my first child and nothing could have prepared me for how much work it would be. Heck, I grew up in a big family and have younger siblings. In college I was a nanny for the FSU basketball coach’s children. I thought I knew everything about taking care of a child. I thought I was ready. But nothing can prepare you for the life-changing responsibility of being a parent.
As I watched the program I wondered if shows like this are glamorizing teen pregnancy. These girls are paid $60,000 a season. This past season MTV had girls show up for the audition for the upcoming show who said they got pregnant just to get on the show. That is really scary. The girls from this show are followed by paparazzi and splashed all over the cover of magazines. I thought the cover of People and Us Magazine was supposed to be a photo of a star like Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock. Now it is a teenage girl who got pregnant and is starring in a reality show on MTV? Are these girls really considered newsworthy and selling magazines? Are we teaching our children that becoming a teen mom is the new way to become a reality star?
My daughters and I sat down the other night to talk about the show. I try and keep the lines of communication open in regards to topics like this. I was interested to get their thoughts on the show. While I was worrying that the show glamorizes teen pregnancy, my girls explained to me what they got from the show. From watching the show they got the message that these girls were unable to finish their educational goals. The relationships with the boys that they thought would last forever; all of those ended. In addition there is the financial instability, the constant work that comes from having a baby, and the reality of how much your life changes. They heard every one of the girls say something to the effect of “I wish I had waited,” or “It’s so much harder than I ever thought.” My girls told me that it makes them think about how hard it would be to be a teen mom and that they feel bad for the girls on the show. They did not see anything positive from the show and actually said the girl that they thought the most of was the one who made the decision to give her baby up for adoption.
Maybe these shows really are making teens think about pregnancy and all that comes with it. Even though we are seeing an increase in the number of shows on television about this topic, the number of teen pregnancies continues to decrease. Maybe my daughters are right and these shows are a deterrent. Teen pregnancy is now a reality show that even if you chose not to watch it, you are going to see it splashed across magazines. So what do you think? Do reality shows, such as MTV’s “Teen Mom” glamorize teen pregnancy? Or could a reality show like this make teens realize the challenges that these girls face as teen moms?