WHITNEY: Stars of teen pregnancy shows unlikely role models
Amber, Maci and Catelyn are better mentors for teens than you might think.
They’re the stars of MTV’s “Teen Mom OG,” which revisits the “Original Girls” who first shared their teen pregnancy stories on the very first season of “16 and Pregnant” and on the first season of the spinoff/follow-up “Teen Mom.”
Prior to the “Teen Mom OG” debut, I read an interview with “Teen Mom” executive producer Dia Sokol Savage, who talked about the intentional new approach they took with this season. By dropping the veil between the lives on screen and the actual production of the show, they’re giving viewers a chance to see how the filming of the show and the exposure affects their lives, Sokol Savage said.
It also shows viewers that, if these young women seem to be doing exceptionally well, it’s due at least in part to their participation in the series, which afforded them a lot of fame and a little fortune. The (kind of covert) message: Life doesn’t work out this way for teen moms without television shows.
That’s a big criticism of the show, that it glamorizes teen pregnancy. But I think people who hold that opinion probably aren’t watching the same show as I am, and they probably don’t know real people who’ve been teen moms.
Let’s get real for a second.
Kids aren’t stupid. I have faith there aren’t many who would watch “16 and Pregnant” and think, “That seems like a good time.”
That’s probably because they know someone who’s been pregnant in high school. In the U.S., 329,797 babies were born to girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If your teen knows someone who’s faced an unplanned pregnancy — whether that friend kept their child, chose abortion or found an adoptive family — they also know it’s a pretty fraught situation.
And it seems “Teen Mom” has only reinforced the idea that teen pregnancy isn’t perfect.
Last year, a study linked a drop in the national teen pregnancy rate with the advent of the series. That study was more than just an exercise in correlation versus causation.
Researchers Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine tracked “analyzed geographic data to see whether locations with higher search activity and tweets about "16 and Pregnant" showed higher levels of searches and tweets about birth control and abortion. They did,” reports CNN.com. “The researchers also looked to see whether high viewership in certain areas corresponded with a bigger drop in teen births. It did.”
Kearney and Levine were able to legitimately quantify the impact the series has had on teen viewers, and although the results don’t show how teens are avoiding pregnancy, the results prove more teens have been able to do so since the series began.
Sokol Savage’s commitment to documenting the experience of these young people does more to un-glamorize the teen mom status by not allowing the tabloids to have the last word on the stars’ stories.
When you see these women given the Kardashian treatment on the cover of US Weekly, it might seem teen pregnancy was the best thing that could’ve happened to them. Revisiting the stories of the OGs will only further shine a light on the reality of teen pregnancy by showing the long-term effect these young couples’ actions have had on their lives — and judging by the first episode, the outlook doesn’t look entirely rosy.