My long-running obsession with the MTV shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom has been vindicated! Sort of. New research indicates that the shows may have been at least partially responsible for a 6% drop in the teen pregnancy rate in 2010. Can I say that I hope condoms are also a big part of the drop?
According to the New York Times, a research paper to be released today:
…by the National Bureau of Economic Research, makes the case that the controversial but popular programs reduced the teenage birthrate by nearly 6 percent, contributing to a long-term decline that accelerated during the recession.
“It’s thrilling,” said Sarah S. Brown, the chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit group in Washington. “People just don’t understand how influential media is in the lives of young people.”
That’s right. Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, as much as I love to watch them—I don’t know why I love to watch them, I’m aware of the problems of their representation but I still watch— apparently have value that goes beyond that of just entertainment. These shows about the actual hardships and struggles of teenage parents have seemingly made a difference, at least according to the study’s authors. The study in question looked at both Nielsen television ratings and birth records, finding that the rate of teenage births declined more in areas where teens where watching MTV than in areas where they were not. Philip B. Levine of Wellesley College, said:
“The assumption we’re making is that there’s no reason to think that places where more people are watching more MTV in June 2009, would start seeing an excess rate of decline in the teen birthrate, but for the change in what they were watching.”
The economists who authored the study also found that tweets, statuses and other social media postings about contraception (as well as search engine traffic) spiked during airings of the shows.
Of course, there are still those who think that the reality shows attempt to show teen pregnancy as “cool.” I never understood why hand-wringers would rage about Teen Mom glamorizing teen pregnancy. I mean, did they ever even watch the show? It’s an endless parade of money struggles, family conflicts, crying babies and sketchy romantic entanglements. And that’s what actually makes it into the show! I’m sure there’s much more to the stories that doesn’t get put on television, including some positive moments. Yes, some of the young mothers get endorsement deals, publicity, and tabloid covers…but that doesn’t mean that teenage girls are running out and getting pregnant because they think they’ll get a shot at being on MTV. Still, I’d argue that the 15 minutes of fleeting fame/adoration that comes from being on a reality show does not cancel out the enormous upheaval that comes along with being a teen mother.
I’m not saying that all teenage mothers have the same experiences as the girls on the MTV reality show, but I feel like watching even a few minutes of an episode would be a pretty harsh deterrent for any teen. From Maci and Ryan‘s horrible breakup and custody battle on Teen Mom, to the staggering assholery of Chelsea‘s boyfriend Adam on Teen Mom 2 to the drama of Leah and Cory and oh god, the trainwecks of Jennelle and Farrah, the show makes it clear that bringing a baby into your life is anything but easy.
Others say that the show exploits teen moms, which is a valid point. Although I think it’s interesting that the study has found the correlation between the shows and the teen birth rate, touting the shows as the perfect “cautionary tale” also seems kind of problematic to me. While I’m glad, for both women and families, that the teen birth rate is going down, I’d hope it’s doing so due to a combination of education and safe sex, rather than just the affects of two television shows.
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