MTV’s 16 and Pregnant: Glamourizing or Cautioning Teens Against Teen Pregnancy?
by hcoms1 on February 17, 2014 - 9:13pm
In a recent article in TIME magazine, Docktorman (2014) analyzes two different surveys with contradicting conclusions regarding the effect that MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have had on teen pregnancy throughout the nation. One study, introduced in the New York Times, concluded that 16 and Pregnant has lead to a decrease in teen births by nearly six percent in 2010, as current rates are at a historic low of 34.3 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. A different study lead by researchers at Indiana University, however, claims that the show has an opposite effect on teenage viewers. University researchers stated that 16 and Pregnant along with the spin-off series Teen Mom has lead viewers to believe that these young mothers featured on a weekly reality television show have an enviable way of life. These opposing findings lead Docktorman to question, which study is correct? Are these MTV shows glamorizing the life of teen mothers, leading viewers to believe that getting pregnant while in high school isn’t such a bad idea? Or, are the shows warning the nearly two million weekly viewers about the struggles of young motherhood? Docktorman continues to point out how difficult it truly is to determine the extent to which media influences teen behavior. Though correlations exist between 16 and Pregnant airing and rates of teen pregnancy, a definite causation for pregnancy rates can never be determined. Instead, a third study published in Sexuality & Culture featured in the article poses an interesting point, finding that girl’s sexual choices have much more to do with their family and sex education background than 16 and Pregnant ever did. Docktorman concludes stating that we can’t depend on MTV to determine how our teens feel regarding teen pregnancy, so regardless of study results, what kids hear at home and school is the most important thing we can control.
Docktorman begins the article with a clear purpose and question she wants to answer about the effects these MTV shows have on teens. As the article continues, however, we find that the question of how 16 and Pregnant affects teen pregnancy requires a much more complicated answer than a simple black and white response. Evidence is clear within the studies cited about how teen pregnancy rates have been decreasing since 16 and Pregnant has aired, but many more factors than just watching an hour-long television show once a week influence how teens behave. One concept that was not completely clear in the article was what exactly encompasses teen pregnancy. The terms teen pregnancy and teen births were used quite interchangeably throughout the article, yet the words “pregnancy” and “birth” themselves have completely different meanings. We cannot make the assumption that teenage pregnancy naturally leads to teen birth; if we judged the studies simply on teen births, that could be a significantly lower number than the amount of teen pregnancies in a given year. I simply counting teenage births in studies, many girls who became pregnant may not be included in the research if they lost their child through miscarriage or abortion. Considering teen pregnancies, however, would include all the teenage girls who had unprotected sex and ended up pregnant, regardless if they carried the child to term or not. Because the discrepancy between teen birth and pregnancy is not entirely clear, it is nearly impossible to determine how large an impact the shows have had in encouraging teens to practice safe sex and avoid pregnancy all together. To fully understand the implications of the studies noted in the article, the concept of teen pregnancy versus teen birth must be more clearly defined. Though millions tune into 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom on a weekly basis, we may never know the true affect it has on our nation’s teens.
Dockterman, E. (2014, January 14). Does 16 and Pregnant prevent or promote teen pregnancy? Time.com, 1.