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Is MTV Making Teen Moms into Stars?

By jeannesager |

16-and-pregnant-maciMTV’s back in the baby making business – or at least in the business of showing teens make babies – with Season Two of 16 and Pregnant.

But while the show has gotten largely good reviews for tackling a tough subject without sugarcoating it, the continuation of the series and its accompanying look at the months after the birth, Teen Mom, have opened up a troubling new controversy.

In trying to take the unglamorous parts of teen pregnancy into people’s living rooms, are they accidentally glamorizing it?

Case in point – Teen Mom Farrah, star of one of the early episodes of 16 and Pregnant who was back on TV in Teen Mom, horrifying other mothers with her laissez faire attitude toward her daughter and frequent dumping on her mother. When Farrah’s mother ended up getting arrested, it was splashed on the likes of TMZ. After all – it’s a TV reality show star involved in a scandal.

If that’s not evidence that she’s a star, what is?

But it’s hard to fault MTV for trying. Having to interview one of the teens for Babble last year (Ebony Jackson, one of the more down-to-earth moms on the show, the only one I’ve ever seen breastfeed and one of the moms who opted NOT to sign up to have the cameras follow her family for Teen Mom), I spent a lot of time watching the show to get a feel for what was being done.

They’ve made efforts to feature teen mothers from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds (despite a comment I read on Feministe recently – wherein the viewer insisted these were all kids from “large houses,” there have been girls living in trailers, girls not even allowed to live at home anymore). They’ve shown birth, labor and all the “disgusting” bits.

And Teen Mom has enabled them to take it beyond the pregnancy to look at what it’s like after the fairy tale when this cute baby is placed in your arms. Viewers have seen couples break up, moms up in the middle of the night with screaming babies, and in the case of Catelynn and Tyler, the aftermath of giving a child up for adoption.

It’s true, they haven’t shown everything. They haven’t shown kids living on the streets after announcing they were pregnant. They haven’t shown the teen moms picking up their WIC checks to try to put food in their kids’ mouths. And they haven’t yet shown a girl who opted for an abortion.

All that may be because, as Slate suggests, although they’re just teens, there are some topics even kids won’t go on TV to talk about. Teen pregnancy is rampant. But every time you read about a baby born in a high school bathroom, you’re reminded it’s still marked with shame.

And that’s where Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant are both bane and boon. They’re opening up the realities of teenage pregnancy, trying to show teenagers why it’s not an answer. They’re showing parents a better way to respond to these pregnancies, and in some ways they’re taking away the shame. Kids who talk to their parents earlier about a teen pregnancy are more likely to get good pre-natal care – better for both mom and baby.

But here’s the other side: Kids who hear pregnancy is getting them on MTV, kids who see these pregnant teens as stars, are going to happen. It’s the danger of television. Like setting fire on themselves after watching Jackass, there is always, well, a jackass. Considering the current estimates put the U.S. atop the western world for teen pregnancy rates (in a bad way) and one third of our girls will get pregnant in their teens, how many of the kids supposedly getting pregnant after watching the show weren’t headed there anyway?

And how many were deterred?

Is the good of the show outdone by the bad? That’s what some parents are saying, but we’d still prefer the conversation be had.

Image: MTV

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About jeannesager

jeannesager

jeannesager

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer and photographer living in upstate New York with her husband and daughter, Jillian. She maintains a blog of her award-winning columns at jeannesager.blogspot.com.

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0 thoughts on “Is MTV Making Teen Moms into Stars?

  1. PlumbLucky says:

    Does anyone think that Farrah wouldn’t be dumping on her Mom had she NOT been on 16 & Pregnant or Teen Mom? I really think that at least 16 & Pregnant (Haven’t caught TM. I did watch the original episodes of 16, and Caitlynn and Tyler hail from not too far from me) does a reasonable job of showing that it IS NOT a fairy tale, and that it serves as at least a vehicle to open discussions.

  2. laraine says:

    Your blogs are always very thought provoking. I am going to share your blog over at our Facebook page: http://www.littleurl.net/e70c1e

  3. Mindy Casale says:

    Comments I’d rather have a boom in teen pregnancies than for our beloved nation to continue with abortions and bathroom deliveries. It is important for shows like this to be out to pave the way for shame reduction and a means of conversation starters between teens and parents to discuss the tremendous task of parenting beforehand. Thanks for sharing this thread. God Bless. Mindy, 35 years old, Conservative Christian, grateful mother of 3.

  4. MAMA says:

    I agree with most of this, except for the fact about showing Teens who chose abortion, it doesn’t really go with the format of the show. When they show the teens, they are in their 3rd trimester. They could have considered that option, but it’s not shown.

  5. jeannesager says:

    @MAMA – that’s a good point. And if I might add that some of these kids actually talk about abortion – although none take that route. So as an issue it isn’t whitewashed off the show. It is at least mentioned as a reality.

  6. Ri-chan says:

    I’ve said it before here “http://blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2010/01/27/horror-movie-trailer-or-teen-pregnancy-psa/comment-page-1/#comment-16145″ and I’ll say it again:

    I hate the show Teen Mom’s. As a women who became pregnant as a teenager, I’m quite happy with my life. I married the father, and we’ve been together and happy for five years now. My husband has a good job at AK Steel. We live in a 3 bedroom house in a middle class nieghborhood. My husband makes enough money, so I don’t have to work, though I’m going to a local community college to keep myself entertained and so that, if I want to, I can get a good job later. I am an avid reader and am well educated. As for my social life, it’s remained about the same as it was before. I never understood the need for a teen mother to somehow “give up” her social life. I was never one for parties or football games or anything like that. I’ve had the same small, close knit group of friends since middle school. My son is loved and wanted and well taken care of. He has a college fund, to which we add $80 a month. He seems happy. His childhood has been a lot better than mine or my husbands. His parents had him in their late 20’s, my mother had me when she was 25 and we both bonded over that fact that our lives were hell. Unlike our parents, we don’t spend the electricity bill money on cigerettes, beer, or drugs, because we don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. Unlike our parents, we do not resort to physical violence when angered, and unlike our parents, we do not leave 2 year olds alone in the house while we go out to party. What makes me mad about this show is that it makes it seem as though all teenage mothers are complete idiots. Honestly, if your that stupid it doesn’t matter what age you have your child, you’ll be a bad mother.

  7. [...] Strollerderby has thoughts and you can read them. [...]

  8. [...] just last week debating whether teen pregnancy has been given star status with MTV’s attempt to expose its realities, Mantel’s comments are proof that even adults [...]

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