Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why "16 & Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" are must-see family TV

Have you seen either of these MTV hit shows? If not, you really should. And so should your preteen/teenage children.
"16 & Pregnant," is an hour-long documentary series focusing on teen pregnancy. Each episode follows a five to seven-month period in the life of a teenager as she navigates the bumpy terrain of adolescence, growing pains, rebellion, and coming of age; all while dealing with being pregnant.
The spinoff, "Teen Mom," follows four of the featured "16 & Pregnant" moms in the year or so after giving birth and how they cope with the relentless demands of parenthood, school work and their relationships. It's absolutely compelling TV, with plenty of drama and heartfelt moments. But it's important viewing as well, for parents of all ages.
The launch of these shows has been met with much controversy and debate, with some claiming they "glamorize" teen pregnancy, and are in fact encouraging many girls to run out and get pregnant in hopes of landing a spot on the series, and eventual fame and fortune. On the flip side, there are some stats that are said to support the claim that the rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. is declining in light of the immense popularity of the shows.
I can't speak to what tangible impact these shows are having on the rate of teen pregnancies in the countries in which they air, but I can tell you one thing: if you've watched even one episode of either series, you can plainly see there is nothing glamorous about these girls' lives and about teen pregnancy in general. Often, these are sad and painful stories that are hard to watch; in some cases, tinged with hope, but for many, filled with despair and hardship as these girls, faced with incredibly adult decisions, are forced to sacrifice their teenage years, their high school experiences and their relationships.
More often than not, the teen dads prove irresponsible and eventually absent (if not abusive). And it's devastating to watch, as happens in too many cases, the family dreams of a pregnant teen mom quickly dissipate amid the birth of her baby and the harsh realities of life caring for a newborn, almost always as a single parent, set in. There's no sugar-coating or glamour to be found here, as viewers watch the teen moms face marriage, divorce, adoption, religion, gossip, finances, rumours among the community, graduating high school (or not), and getting (or losing) a job. Some find trouble with the law, some struggle with eating disorders and other mental health issues, some turn to drugs and alcohol and partying, and some eventually relinquish custody of their children. I have no doubt these stories are a reasonably accurate reflection of the majority of teen pregnancies: it's brutally hard, it changes life radically, and there is a great deal of pain and sadness that comes with having a child as a teenager.
As a teen mom myself, (my first child was born when I was 18) I truly wish I would have had this fascinating glimpse into the real lives of teenage parents when I first became sexually active. There's certainly room for debate about the editing of the show, and the consequences that the money and exposure inevitably has for the moms who star in the show, but I remain convinced this reality series is extremely beneficial as a cautionary tale about the consequences of unprotected sex for teens everywhere. It airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on MTV Canada.

What do you think about "16 & Pregnant" and "Teen Mom"? Are these shows helpful or harmful when it comes to educating about teen pregnancy? editor@ottawaparentingtimes.ca

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