It’s no secret that reality TV has taken over television in this last decade. With cringe-worthy shows like the recently premiered Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (yes, it’s a real show), many viewers scratch their heads and wonder if a few decent YouTube videos might land them a spot in the limelight and a nice little paycheck to boot.
Shows like The Hills and The Real Housewives follow the lives of cat-fighting, Botox-injected rich women, while others like the recently-ended Jersey Shore glamorize drunken fist-pumping in seedy clubs. But according to some viewers, there’s at least one reality show that might have done more good than harm by painting an accurate picture of, well, reality.
MTV’s Teen Mom, which recently ended this past August, was a spin-off of the former show 16 and Pregnant. It followed the lives of four teenage mothers, Amber, Farrah, Maci and Catelynn, in an attempt to give viewers an accurate picture of the challenges that often come with teenage parenthood. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 77 percent of viewers said the show helped teens better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. But is this really the case, or did MTV glamorize what is indeed a troubling epidemic in our society?
According to the Center for Disease and Control, teenage pregnancy has actually decreased in the last few years; there are now fewer teenage mothers than any year since 1946. Between 2009 and 2010, teenage pregnancy decreased 9 percent; there are now 34.3 births per 1,000 births for girls between the ages of 15 and 19. California falls 29th on the list of 50 states, with 31.5 teenage births per every 1,000. But there are still nine times as many teen moms in America as there are in other developed countries. And of those American teen moms, only 50 percent will go on to get their high school diploma.
Some experts agree we’ve made leaps and bounds in getting the word out about the importance of safe sex, and that kids are finally starting to wise up about using birth control and abstinence. Some even believe that shows like Teen Mom have contributed to this shift. After all, the stories of the four girls on the show depict anything but fame, fortune and a comfortable life. Teen mom Amber deals with domestic abuse and winds up in prison when she fights back at her boyfriend. Farrah struggles with the death of her boyfriend, who passes away just two months before her daughter is born. Then there are custody battles, broken hearts, daycare dilemmas and money troubles. Definitely sounds a bit more like reality to me than the Kardashians. But has this show truly painted an accurate picture of single parenthood and helped young girls wise up?
Just last month, Farrah Abraham, one of the stars of Teen Mom, released her first book, My Teenage Dream Ended. Though the book has received poor reviews for its bland writing and grammatical problems, it is still predicted to appeal to both parents and teens for its supposed honest portrayal of her life.
Though Farrah calls the book “therapy” for herself, many argue that this aspiring model is in the whole deal for the fame and money, and that things like this only further glamorize the teenage pregnancy epidemic. After all, if girls like Farrah can get on TV and get a book deal, perhaps others will follow suit, they say. And then they may be in for a very rude awakening.
As a former teenage mom, I know the challenges that come with the decision to raise a baby at such a young age. Though I managed to get an apartment, get a job and put myself through college, the road was anything but easy.
I wrote papers at 2 in the morning when my son was asleep, missed midterms when he came down with a severe case of the chicken pox, and ate generic cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner when the money ran low. And as I watched my other friends travel, marry and move on with their lives, I wondered if I’d ever be able to do the same with mine.
In a way, I suppose I could relate to Farrah Abraham’s book title: my teenage dream did indeed end. And while my son is now 16 and the light of my life, I would not wish this hard road on anyone I know.
So, moms, what do you think of shows like Teen Mom? Do you think they glamorize teenage pregnancy or paint an accurate picture of the challenges young single moms face? Would you encourage your teenagers to watch them in hopes that they might make a different choice? Do you feel you can talk openly with your kids about this subject, and do you think we’ve made any progress in this area over the last decade? We want to hear from you!