Teen Mom Reality TV

The MTV series 16 and Pregnant generated its own controversy. But also enough success for the network to produce a spinoff, already in its third season.

Time Magazine asks, is this a good thing?

With more than 3 million viewers each week, it’s the network’s top-rated show after Jersey Shore, and its subjects provide endless fodder for the tabloids. But MTV’s teen-pregnancy franchise is a more discomfiting venture than most artifacts of the reality-TV age. Not quite famous for being famous, as the denizens of The Hills and Jersey Shore are, these young mothers became famous for making unplanned detours into parenthood — and inviting cameras along for the ride. Though MTV recruited them to be the subjects of cautionary tales, the network has turned them into success stories: television stars and cover girls, gainfully employed just for being themselves.

And pregnant. Or, taking the conversation to a deeper level, unmarried young mothers now raising infants born out of wedlock. Far better than choosing to abort. But is it glamorizing an agonizing trend?

It’s an uneasy mix of messages from programs intended to document and deter teen pregnancy, not exalt it. Lauren Dolgen, senior vice president of series development at MTV and the creator of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, got the idea for the shows after reading that each year, 750,000 15-to-19-year-olds become pregnant in the U.S. “This is an epidemic that is happening to our audience, and it’s a preventable epidemic,” Dolgen says. “We thought it was so important to shed light on this issue and to show girls how hard teen parenting is.

Time grapples with this. As is evident in this one paragraph:

An October 2010 focus-group study commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 4 in 10 teenagers who watch an episode of 16 and Pregnant talk about the show with a parent afterward and that more than 90% of them think teen pregnancy is harder than they imagined before watching the series.

However, they quote Planned Parenthood as a voice of reassurance that prudence is exercised in the series.

“Any show that provides an opportunity to get more direction from a responsible adult, whether it’s a parent or an educator — that’s a terrific opportunity,” says Leslie Kantor, national director of education initiatives for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Ultimately it’s another story illustrating, poignantly, the dire need for a marriage and family culture.


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