January 10th, 2011

Truly, I have tried mightily to understand the appeal of MTV’s show 16 and Pregnant.  Okay, “mightily” probably overstates it.  But I’ve tried to wrap my head around the concept of this show and I just can’t do it.  I put on my “guilty pleasure” hat and gave it a whirl.  And I found the whole thing utterly lacking.  Let me be clear about one thing up front.  I’m not judging the girls.  They’ve got more than enough challenges on their plates as teen moms without my judgment.  I wish each of them the best of luck in an impossible situation.  What I do question, however, is the show.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a couple of weeks now.  I bought a copy of US Weekly with a teen mom from the show on its cover.  I Tivo’d a 16 and Pregnant reunion special over the weekend.  I wanted to delve into the lives and circumstances of its subjects and learn a bit about them.  I wanted to understand the appeal of their stories.  I wanted figure out why our national culture thinks that the plight of the teen mother is appropriate fodder for our entertainment.

I will confess that I made it through neither the magazine article nor the Tivo’d reunion special.  This is due in part to the fact that my weekends are filled with distractions.  But it is due also in part to the fact that I found the content completely uninteresting.  I don’t think I’m totally out of touch.  I can see the appeal of a show like Jersey Shore.  It’s not really my speed, but having seen a couple of episodes I can understand the train wreck qualities that keep people coming back for more.  But this one lost me.

You know the girls’ lives are going to be disasters.  You know that they are going to be completely ill-equipped to deal with the stresses of new motherhood.  (And that’s before Dr. Drew tells you that only 2% of teen moms obtain college degrees before the age of 30.)  You know that their partners (if they’re still in the picture at all) are going to be overwhelmed and act out in immature ways.  And you know that their lives have been changed forever in ways that the girls themselves won’t fully grasp for years.

Given all this, my question is: Does it do a service or a disservice to all American teens to have a show like this on the air?  Does it encourage or discourage teen pregnancy?  In the short bit that I watched (which included clips from prior episodes) I was impressed by how stark a light the show seemed to cast on its stars; I didn’t think the show glamorized the subject matter.  But I wonder if the mere presence of a show like 16 and Pregnant (and its ability to turn teen moms into little celebrities) puts the wrong idea in other young girls’ heads.

I was 31 years old when I became a mother.  I’d been married for nearly five years.  My husband and I both had educations, jobs, and supportive families.  And we still struggled with the transition into parenthood.  Had our family started any earlier – by choice or happenstance – I’m sure we would have struggled even more than we did.  I remember saying to him in those early weeks many times, “Can you imagine if we didn’t have a strong marriage?”

Teen pregnancy isn’t a joke.  It isn’t just a fun indulgence like most other reality television topics.  I don’t find it entertaining to watch, but obviously other people do.  Given that, I wonder what the net effect on the teen psyche of such a show is.  Teens are impressionable.  I just don’t know which impression we’re leaving with this one.

9 Responses to “Impressionism”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Even if the show hi-lights the struggles of teen motherhood, I think the fact that these girls are on TV–given their own show–adds enough glamour to make it a questionable practice. It kind of makes my skin crawl.

  2. Laura H. Says:

    I have not seen the show, but I recently read that the teen pregnancy rate decreased in 2009, that parents are what influence teens (not television) the most when it comes to sex, and that teens who have watched the MTV show say that it makes them analyze their risk-taking differently.

  3. Jane Says:

    I am hoping with fingers and toes crossed that it discourages risky sexual behavior. Or, at the very, very least, encourages a pregnant teen out there to choose adoption for their child.

  4. Gale Says:

    Laura – Thanks for your comment. I’ve read the same thing about teen pregnancies being on the decline. Media has a way of making us believe that it is an accurate representation of reality. But we all know that it emphasizes the sensational, and fewer teen pregnancies make a less interesting show. Also glad to know that the parental voice is still the strongest.

  5. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    My initial reaction to this show is the same as Kitch’s, but I am heartened to be reminded by Laura of the decline in teen pregnancy rates in recent years. What’s curious to me is the appeal that these reality shows seem to have. I don’t know many people who genuinely enjoy them and yet they seem to be taking over the airways more and more.

    P.S. When I saw that image at the top of your post, I wondered if you were about to make an exciting announcement. :)

  6. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    So interesting because I have been planning a post on this very topic for a while. I have not been able to watch an entire episode nor do I have any genuine interest in doing so, but I can’t see why any network sees this as an appropriate show. I do see why people want to watch. What are these stories but train wrecks unto themselves, snapshots of struggle and sadness and poor decisions? What angers me most is seeing those young girls, often bikini clad and smiling on the glossy pages of national mags. These women are in many ways becoming mini-celebrities because of their poor decisions. Is this glorifying teen pregnancy? I think maybe so. Worth thinking about and so I will. Stay tuned for my post. I will make sure to link here :)

  7. BigLittleWolf Says:

    This is one I’ve missed, and I find it troubling for the very reasons you mention, and that Kitch and others mention. Being on television – especially to kids – is glamorous. Not a good thing.

  8. Rebecca Hanover Says:

    So conflicted on this one. Happy to hear the stats re: teen pregnancy. Also agree with Aidan that this is totally glorifying the whole topic and making celebrities out of kids who made poor choices (key word being kids!) I would never, ever endorse or work on or DVR such a show (though I have seen it once)… but I’m hoping that it teaches something to at least one kid out there… and maybe that makes it not so horrible.

    On a related note, I find the new show Bridalplasty (have NOT seen it) to be just about the sickest show I’ve ever heard of. Each week, rewarding the winner of the challenge with a plastic surgery procedure from her “wish list”? The winner of the whole show getting completely redone (ala Heidi Montag)… and her husband won’t see her until her wedding day when it’s all done? That feels like the lowest of the low, to me.

  9. Gale Says:

    Rebecca – Welcome to TDT and thanks for commenting. I share your concerns that any attention at all sends the wrong message here. I take heart at Laura’s earlier comment that these types of shows don’t really influence the behavior of teens. But that doesn’t make it make it any more appropriate a subject matter. It saddens me to learn that Hollywood producers will air anything to make a buck, and that the American people will gobble up whatever drivel they serve. Bridalplasty (I haven’t seen it either, but the ads make me cringe) is another such example.