Over the past few weeks, the stars of “Teen Mom,” an MTV (ahem) “reality” show, have been in the news quite a bit. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, now in its second season, here’s a synopsis: MTV producers follow four pregnant teens through their difficult decision to raise a child — or give the baby up for adoption, in the case of one teen mom — while simultaneously attending school, working, and negotiating relationships with their parents and (frequently) the baby’s father. Averaging 3.3 million viewers per episode, even the show’s producer, Morgan J. Freeman, admits to surprise at the show’s popularity, noting that its audience appears drawn to the show’s main characters, Amber, Catelynn, Maci, and Farrah, rather than the subject matter.
Critics of the show — and there are many, spanning the political gamut — claim it glamorizes teen pregnancy. As part of the season 2 publicity rounds, air-brushed photos of the shows’ teen moms have graced the covers of US Weekly, People, and Ok Magazine, with headlines like “Maci — back with Ryan!,” “Second Chance at Love,” and “We Miss our Baby.”
But before we roll our eyes and turn off TV (not bad advice, in any case), let’s consider the facts. Even a cursory glance at the “Teen Mom” message boards indicates that the show has teens talking about the risks of unprotected sex. All four of the moms featured have dealt with some difficult issues as a result of their pregnancy: money problems, break-ups, fights with mom and dad. The Kaiser Family Foundation, in fact, has partnered with MTV to offer “Teen Mom” videos as part of their ongoing sex education campaign,“It’s Your Sex Life.”
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, meanwhile, has just released the results of a report that explores the relationship between media and teen pregnancy discussions (full disclosure: the National Campaign works with MTV on these shows and produces discussion guides that go along with MTV’s 16 and Pregnant). Nearly 50 percent of teenagers surveyed (N=1,008) said they “discussed sex, love, or relationships with an adult because of something they saw in the media about teen pregnancy.”
This blogger wonders, however, how MTV’s audience will react to the show’s recent focus on intimate partner violence. After months of verbal abuse, the relationship between one teen mom and the father of her child deteriorated into physical violence — which MTV filmed (and showed) in its entirety. Note to producers: a couple of PSAs just don’t cut it.