Do shows like 16 and Pregnant encourage or discourage teen pregnancy?

A CDC survey of teenage pregnancy statistics reveals that teen pregnancy in the States is at a record low. There has been a significant decrease in babies born to teen moms since 1991 marking a drop of 44% in teen pregnancies. In 2009 six teenagers, pregnant unintentionally, allowed MTV to film their pregnancies in hopes that youth watching the resultant show – 16 and Pregnant – would learn from their mistakes and wait before starting a family (not to forget the good ratings, of course). Pregnancy rates dropped nine percent in 2009 to 2010 alone. Considering 16 and Pregnant premiered in the summer of 2009, it is tempting to wonder whether the show is responsible.

The link between media and teen behavior

A survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that 16 and Pregnant and other teenage pregnancy TV shows were responsible for a drop of six percent in 2010. Another research by experts of Indiana University however had something completely opposite to say. 16 and Pregnant and its spinoff show Teen Moms encourages its viewers to get pregnant. Shows like these, according to this survey, are influencing their viewers to start thinking that teen moms have an enviable quality of life. It is difficult to point at one survey and say this is it as it is difficult to determine the link between media and teen behavior.

The 2009 show was originally designed to make young women realize how difficult it is to be a mom in your teenage. After every episode, MTV endorses a website named The lesson this website preaches is mainly to encourage teens towards safe sex and enjoying one’s teen years with the responsibilities that a too-early pregnancy brings along with STDs, birth control and dating abuse.

Parents and educators

The show didn’t seem to appeal parents and educators after drawing almost 2 million viewers. They are worried that shows like these were having a copycat effect. Teen moms rarely graduated, constantly faced financial constraints and were more likely to be unemployed than their educated peers. They thought MTV was showing how cool it was to be a teen mom. The fact that all those starring in the show had an access to instant stardom overnight further fuelled the fury of the argument. Parents and educators worried that teens might see motherhood as a way of getting noticed.

Teen Moms was MTV’s response to this criticism. MTV followed the same teens around after their babies were born. Viewers saw how aged the life of a teen mom was as the stars fought with the fathers of their babies, their own parents, faced financial constraints and struggled to get a high school diploma and watch as their friends enjoyed their lives in college.

But this show too was under fire. Three friends of Teen Moms’ star Janelle Evans got pregnant within a year of Evan starring on the show. Whether they had become pregnant intentionally to follow in Evans’ footsteps or not, it is difficult to say. From what we see, Evans failed to serve the purpose of the cautionary tale she was supposed to.

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