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Is MTV Making Teen Moms into Stars?

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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