Do reality shows like Teen Mom and 16 And Pregnant “glamorize” teen pregnancy? That standard hand-wringer has always struck me as weird. Because um, those shows don’t exactly make teen pregnancy/motherhood look awesome. They (unlike, SORRY, Glee) actually make it look pretty crappy — a lot more so than, say, carrying around a sack of flour for a week. Even when cute teen moms glam it up for celeb magazines (which are guilty of overglamorizing post-teen motherhood), teens — who, turns out, are also better at condoms than grownups — still know what’s up.
And now we have the numbers to show it: according to two brand-new studies commissioned by The National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, “most teens (79% of girls and 67% of boys) agree that when a TV show or character they like deals with teen pregnancy, it makes them think more about their own risk of getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy and how to avoid it.” Other findings:
· Among those young people who have watched MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, 82% think the show helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it.
· 76% of young people say that what they see in the media about sex, love, and relationships can be a good way to start conversations with adults.
· About half (48%) say they have discussed these topics with their parents because of something they have seen in the media.
· 16 and Pregnant got young people talking and thinking about teen pregnancy─40% of those in the treatment group said they talked about the show with a parent, 63% discussed with a friend, and 37% discussed with a sibling.
· 93% of those who watched [a particular] episode agreed (53% strongly agreed) with the statement: “I learned that teen parenthood is harder than I imagined from these episodes.”
This is all information we’re not so sure they’re getting in, say, abstinence-only sex ed — which, while we’re on the subject, glamorizes lies, shame, and fear. (And whose funding just got resuscitated, even as the Obama administration also awarded $155 million in federal grants to support evidence-based, medically accurate sex ed.)
Enough with the mixed messages, as Jessica Wakeman wrote at The Frisky, continuing: “If pregnant teen girls get their moment in the media’s graces, the least we can do is use it wisely. The alternative could be much, much worse.” Of course the media plays a role in the whole teen pregnancy ecosystem, but there are a whole lot of other reasons teens get pregnant, most of which are much, much more complicated and challenging than the simple notion of MTV cause-and-effect (which is exactly why we are reluctant to acknowledge and deal with them). Teens are smarter than we give them credit for. Sometimes, in fact — see phrases bolded above — they just want to talk.