Well, other than the fact that I should not have been watching anyway as I am way beyond the intended age bracket. But I initially got hooked during the first season of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant when I was in the midst of my own first pregnancy (but at the more socially acceptable age of 27). It seems the premise of the show was to help shed light on the trials of teenage pregnancy and aid in the reduction of teenage pregnancy. Really? Noble idea, I suppose, but I have to question whether that’s what was actually achieved.
The 16 and Pregnant show seemed like a reasonable enough idea, and I actually enjoyed watching it. I found many of the subjects quite interesting. Catelynn’s and Tyler’s episode moved me to tears. Aubrey and Brandon’s episode stuck with me long after–maybe because if I had watched this show as a teen, that might have been the one episode to give me pause to think twice about getting myself into any similar predicament. Many of the subjects, however, were quite aggravating with bratty behavior such as cursing out the parents that were still affording them middle class comforts and support that the teens clearly took for granted. I did always have a concern that many (not all) of them never really got that cold hard dose of reality that seemed to be needed because they had parents that didn’t push it on them. But if nothing else, in more cases than not, the teen parents did not get along swimmingly well after baby and that was a solid point to be made for the 16 yr old that truly thinks they will be together forever and live happily ever after. If that were the one and only takeaway, it would still be a good one.
It’s the follow-up Teen Mom series where the social responsibility objective starts to get lost on me. If this show is supposed to convey to other teens what life would be like as a teen mom, then I just don’t see how this would be an accurate portrayal. I’m not even going to touch on Amber Portwood, Jenelle Evans, and the disaster that is Farrah Abraham. But even for the teens with the not-so-extreme back-stories, there’s still nothing normal about having camera crews following you around and displaying your life to the world. There’s nothing normal about (allegedly) being paid anywhere between $60,000 to $100,000 per season. For five seasons! They have millions of social media followers, speaking engagements, talk show appearances, their faces are splashed weekly on magazine covers, they have book deals! No matter how you slice it, these girls are famous! They are now bona-fide celebrities. And in our fame-hungry, celebrity-obsessed society, you cannot possibly think for one nanosecond that attaining this kind of status would not be attractive to young impressionable teens with stars in their eyes. You can’t even seriously claim that the moms are using their celebrity status and their show for goodwill by pushing the teen pregnancy prevention platform, because that’s not what is portrayed on the show. What you see on the show is them getting married, getting divorced, getting married again, and getting pregnant again all by the ripe old age of 22!
I don’t begrudge these girls anything. At the end of the day they’re still young moms figuring out life. I’m not even saying its a bad thing that they’ve taken advantage of the opportunities they’ve now been afforded. But that’s just the thing: they now have these opportunities to which the average struggling teen mom cannot easily relate. Being able to buy a house when you haven’t even secured an actual job? Driving a Hummer? Affording an expensive fantasy wedding that many can only dream of? This should serve as a cautionary tale to beware the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy? Now that’s a (birth control) pill that I just can’t swallow.
To be fair, I don’t know that MTV has ever actually claimed this series to serve as a warning to teens. MTV’s website merely says it’s a show that follows the lives of these particular young mothers. And, good or bad, I would suppose that this is indeed their life as they now know it. But what does that say about us as a society if we make celebrities of teens for becoming young mothers and we shamelessly voyeur into their lives (and the lives of their unsuspecting children) without actually having something of value to say about it? Maybe if the show did have more of a clear message, and did take a more hard-lined look at the trials of the everyday teenage mom that is truly struggling, then perhaps documenting that experience would be much more socially redeeming. But without that objective, without that purpose, it’s hard not to view and think that this is just simply regular reality TV show fodder. Exploitative entertainment. Celebrity-voyeurism into the lives of young girls who have attained uncommon fame, status, and money, and essentially for no other reason than because they had sex and got pregnant as teens. And if that’s the takeaway that even a few teen viewers get, then its a bad one!