Is MTV Making Teen Pregnancy Worse With "Teen Mom?"

6 years ago

In case you haven't been following the news surrounding MTV's popular show "Teen Mom 2," the premiere of which was last night and which is a spinoff of their popular show "16 and Pregnant" and a sequel of the even more popular show "Teen Mom," let me give you some highlights:

  • Teenage girls are now getting pregnant on purpose so they can audition for these shows. Does this disturb you?
  • And why not? There is now a "Teen Mom" cast member segment in gossip magazines each week, and Teen Moms are followed by paparazzi. They're newsworthy! They sell magazines! Statistics be damned — become a teen mom — it’s the new way to become reality-tv famous!
  • Speaking of news, Teen Mom Amber Portwood was recently indicted for domestic abuse for a beating she gave her former fiancé ON THE SHOW while their baby was in the next room.

Where do I even start with this? What are MTV executives thinking? Where is the line when it comes to reality TV? Why was the MTV camera crew not named as accessories to the felony domestic abuse they witnessed and did nothing to stop? Where does MTV's responsibility begin when it comes to the lives of these children? And by children, I don't mean the babies. I mean the teen moms themselves, who are being blatantly exploited by MTV. There, I said it.

Here's the thing: it's one thing to take camera crews in to document something that's happening anyway that maybe we just didn't know about (Hoarders, anyone? Psychic Kids?), but it is quite another to cultivate and even encourage this behavior for the sake of a hit show.

The line is blurry from the beginning -- the intention is obviously there to show the realities of teen pregnancy (the inevitable relationship instability, financial instability, and inability to finish their educational goals). Every single one of them says something to the effect of "I wish I had waited," or "It's much harder than I thought," or "I've had to grow up overnight," and MTV does have the requisite public service website to teach kids about preventing teen pregnancy and domestic abuse.

And yet ... there is a certain prurient interest in these shows that goes beyond simply rooting for the girls to make it. For better or worse, MTV has created a culture of celebrity with these teenagers, evidenced most clearly in the After Shows (hosted by Dr. Drew Pinsky of Loveline and Celebrity Rehab fame), where the audience consists of other teenage girls who are now romanticizing the teen pregnancies, oohing and aahing over the babies, and crying over the proposals.

Side note: proposals? Why is it better to be 16 and pregnant AND MARRIED? To my mind, this just adds another grown-up expectation to a child with a problem, which is essentially what MTV is doing by glorifying these girls -- adding camera crews and the entertainment industry to their lives during a time when they are barely struggling to get by, then not stepping in when they get into dangerous and/ or violent situations like domestic abuse or child neglect. Why is this okay? How does being married make these situations better?

Never one to miss out on the exploitation bandwagon, US Weekly has recently profiled the Teen Mom 2 cast: Leah, who got pregnant with twins after dating a guy for a month and is now married and on the cover of US Weekly. The overall message: this kind of thing is okay! Have unprotected sex and drop out of school, because there is a place for you on MTV, despite overwhelming statistical evidence to the contrary.

Next up: Jenelle, the spoiled, entitled brat with a pushy mom, who is already losing her temper and shoving her mom around in episode one. This is going in the direction of last season's Farrah, where legal and custody issues will be the disturbing backdrop of the show. Again, MTV-- really? Adding camera crews to this situation is just going to make them more performative (a la Cops), so once again, you are encouraging and exacerbating the problem.

Also in the cast: Kailyn, who has basically had to raise herself because of a complete absence of parental figures, has been quasi-adopted by her (now ex) boyfriend's parents and is raising her baby in their basement, and Chelsea, who literally needs an intervention to stay away from her verbally abusive boyfriend Adam; an on and off relationship that is certainly being encouraged by MTV.

The bottom line: it could be good for these girls to have the money that goes along with being on these shows, but the clear beneficiary is MTV. I will put this out there: if MTV is going to document them anyway (thus putting them in an artificial circumstance), why can’t they also pay to get them some education? What about providing mentors or a website where concerned viewers can offer help, give advice, or maybe even offer to adopt one of the children?

What do you think? Should MTV be glorifying these girls in these tough situations? Should they step in when dangerous situations arise? Do these shows go too far, and are they endangering not only the stars, but their children and other teenage girls who might be watching? If the people holding the cameras won’t take responsibility, then who will? Will you be watching Teen Mom 2?

Lori Culwell
Author, blogger, SEO Expert

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