It’s time for another round of that teenage old question, “Do the shows Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant help prevent or encourage teen pregnancies?”
The show’s creator Lauren Dolgen, who we profiled here, has always defended her immensely popular programming pointing out that the MTV shows have had a massive influence in bringing the topic of teen pregnancy into the public discourse.
Dolgen stated in part:
We believe that our audience is smart enough to view “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” as the shows were intended — as cautionary tales about the consequences of unprotected sex, and the reality of becoming a parent too early.
In fact, research by the National Campaign found that among teens who watch “16 and Pregnant,” 82 percent believe the show helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it.
Two assistant professors, Nicole Martins from Indiana University and Robin Jensen from the University of Utah, have published a study that presents findings that indicate many viewers of the programs, “believe that teen mothers have an enviable quality of life, a high income and involved fathers.” Teens who perceived reality TV to be realistic were the ones most likely to have these perceptions.
“The fact that teens in the study seemed to think that being a teen parent was easy might increase the likelihood that they’ll engage in unsafe sexual practices because that’s not a real consequence to them.”
“As you study reality television with younger populations, you’re going to find that younger children are going to have a harder time understanding that this is something that is scripted, edited and put together in a purposeful way to create a narrative and a drama. Indeed, there are some individuals who believe that this reality TV show is like real life. For them, they were the most likely ones to hold unrealistic perception about teen parenthood.”
The professors stated they were surprised by what they discovered:
“Maybe that’s what’s drawing viewers’ attention: the fact that one of the teen moms, Farrah Abraham, repeatedly is on the cover of Us Weekly for all the plastic surgery that she’s had. Well, a teen mom living in this country can’t afford that; most unmarried teen mothers are on welfare. In other words, the attention and opportunities seemingly thrown at these teen parents may appear so appealing to viewers that no amount of horror stories from the reality shows themselves can override them.”
Students that were chosen to participate in the study ranged in age from 14 to 18. They were from schools that demographically represented the mean income and racial makeup of the national average. Not surprisingly, 80% of the males questioned said they “never watched” the shows while 58% of females said they “sometimes or always” watch the show.
The professors concluded:
“This study makes a valuable contribution because it links exposure to specific content — teen mom reality programming — to teens’ perceptions of teen motherhood. While it would be inappropriate to suggest that viewing these programs is the cause of teen pregnancy, one might consider it a contributing factor.”