For many, it’s a parent’s worst nightmare: Your kid is 16—and pregnant.
At the same time, it’s nearly impossible for viewers of the hour-long MTV documentary series of the same name to look away.
16 and Pregnant and its spin-off, Teen Mom, focus on the “variety of challenges pregnant teens face: marriage, adoption, religion, gossip, finances, rumors among the community, graduating high school, [and] getting (or losing) a job.” MTV bills the wildly popular reality series as a series of real-life cautionary tales, often airing PSAs for safe sex during commercial breaks.
But do these shows really do any good? Are they gainful—or glorifying?
This week, we asked our local Moms Council to weigh in on pregnant teens on TV.
Have you watched 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom on MTV? What are your thoughts on these shows? Are they beneficial to teens? Are they disturbing? What's your take as a parent?
Jennifer Zeglen: I have never seen these shows, but I would imagine there are good and bad things about them. It is nice to have a platform for parents to talk to their kids about these issues. At the same time, it is risky to make celebrities out of teen moms. I would be interested to see research on how these kinds of shows are shaping kids' opinions of teenage pregnancy.
Genevieve Suzuki: Teen Mom infuriates me in so many ways. Yes, I do believe MTV is glamorizing teen pregnancy by promoting shows like this, but what actually upsets me most is seeing teens pregnant, period. As a thirty-something who got pregnant out of sheer luck, and has several good friends who struggle with infertility, seeing these young people take for granted what others would give anything for is frustrating.
Knowing what kind of turmoil these teens are putting their children through makes it even worse. These shows aren't shedding light on how not to get pregnant as a teen—they're mining drama throughout these kids' lives simply to increase viewership. As a family law attorney, I see the adverse affect warring parents can have on a child. Watching these teens dramatize their lives for TV surely can't be beneficial for their babies. I look forward to the day these shows get put to bed for good.
Carol Yeh-Garner: I've only watched those shows briefly and am personally disturbed by them. I think the shows glamorize teen pregnancy and if teens are watching them, they could get mixed messages, i.e. "Teen pregnancy is hard, but if I get onto a TV show, I could make a lot of money.”
I know these shows are not an accurate depiction of what really happens for teens that are dealing with pregnancy. If my children wanted to watch these types of shows when they are older, I would watch with them to be able to discuss what their thoughts were, to answer any questions they had and to help them know what the reality of teen pregnancy is rather than the TV version.
Stacey Ross: One in six U.S. girls will become a teen mother, and that is pretty disturbing. Young ladies who are turned into reality stars gain celebrity status for being teen moms—something that’s become a big hit in our culture. The popular shows help display the reality of teenage parents’ lives for viewers to see what they deal with on a daily basis, but they also turn unfortunate situations into shows for profit.
From what I have seen and heard, the shows do not depict teen parenting in a glamorous fashion, but their producers and directors surely seek disruption and chaos—it makes for good TV.
What we do not see is that the lure of fame attracts others to go to the lengths of becoming pregnant, just to be the next pregnant teen star. Yes, this is the case! These shows are about keeping people entertained, not finding the best and most suitable family and role models for innocent children who should not be put through this circus. If they dissuade teens from having babies, good. I think it is mostly cheap entertainment, though.
Judy Halter and Edie Sanchez: I feel these shows make the unfortunate dynamic of teen pregnancy appear too easy. I have not actually watched these shows, but have seen the movie Juno, which I felt again did a disservice to young girls. These shows may provide an opportunity to discuss the subject of teen pregnancy, but it appears to be a subject that is overdone in the direction of acceptance.
Ray Pearson: I have never watched either show, but am familiar with the concept. My experience with my daughter showed me how impressionable she was as a teenager. I see these reality shows as an attempt to show teenage girls’ struggles and victories through teen pregnancy, but I’m not sure this is the best way to prevent the problem. If a show depicts the benefits of not having sex, not getting pregnant and following dreams then that could be a better example. Any program that glamorizes teenage pregnancy, both for girls and boys, I don't think serves the greater good for our young people.
Meet our moms (and dad):
Genevieve Suzuki has one 2-year-old daughter. In addition to having her own law practice, she writes feature stories for Encinitas Patch. She is also the author of "The Original Poi Cats on O'ahu," a children's book published in Hawaii.
Carol Yeh-Garner is the mom of a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl who are constantly teaching her how to be a better person. She is also a local HypnoBirthing instructor and HypnoFertility practitioner.
Jennifer Zeglen is a mom to two imaginative girls, ages 4 and 6. She is also a local naturopathic doctor with a family medicine practice.
Ray Pearson is the father of three children, ages 26, 23 and 17. He lives with his wife in Carlsbad and devotes most of his nonwork time to young people and the Rotary Club.
Stacey Ross has one 7-year-old boy and 8-year-old-daughter who remind her daily how precious life is. In addition to running two websites, she writes feature stories for the Carlsbad Patch as well as shares local and national deals for the "Frugal Family" column.
Judy Adams Halter and Edie High Sanchez are certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) instructors with a combined 50 years of parenting experience. Halter is the mother of four children, ages 21, 19, 17 and 14. Sanchez has two grown daughters and three grandchildren; two girls, ages 1 and 5, and a boy, age 7. Both women live in La Jolla.