The Price of Teen Pregnancy and the Influence of Reality TV

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Reality stars’ influence is not always the best, as proven by MTV’s group of teen mothers, who generate publicity that often glamorizes teenage pregnancy. Sadly, these stars sometimes have more money and fame and influence over teens than doctors, educators, businessmen and women.

If your aspirations are to become famous and make tons of money, know that it is sometimes easier to accomplish these days by appearing on reality shows. We live in a society that rewards people for knowing how to party hard, like the cast of “Jersey Shore,” date an athlete, like the women of VH1’s “Basketball Wives,” and even get pregnant in high school, like the now tabloid-famous reality stars of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.”

This summer, MTV premiered season three of its hit TV show, “Teen Mom.” The show is about a group of teens who have recently given birth. They are followed by MTV’s cameras to watch their everyday lives. The show educates teens about being a teenage parent, while still being entertaining. But the media, making celebrities out of the teen moms, has made the show detrimental to its core audience.

It used to be shameful to become pregnant at such a young age. Teens didn’t even want people in their schools to know, let alone the entire country. Today, when a teen becomes pregnant, instead of running to her room to hide, she might run to cameras with hopes of becoming the next television star.

MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant”  have become very popular, hitting the top spots in Nielsen ratings at 4.5 million and 2.1 million viewers, respectively (2011 numbers). The shows have influenced American girls, spreading the message that it’s OK to get pregnant because MTV might fund it. (One “Teen Mom” star stated in court that she makes $140,000 per season, not including endorsements and appearances). The girls are plastered on the covers of magazines — sometimes in a positive light, sometimes in a negative light.

With MTV’s teen moms in the limelight, getting pregnant in high school is just not shocking anymore. In part, because these shows are shown so much, having sex as a teen has become an accepted and unremarkable practice, ultimately contributing to America’s social problems, rather than correcting them.

Zina Deretsky.

Photo by Kevin Dooley | Flickr

The United States has the highest teenage birth rate among fully-industrialized countries, at 3.9 percent in 2009 for 15-19 year olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  This number is high compared to other industrialized nations, such as Canada and France. It’s alarming, too, considering the physical and mental health risks to the mother and the baby in a teen pregnancy, including low birth weight and a baby’s predisposition to more illnesses.

The National Institutes of Health reports that teenage mothers are at a greater risk of experiencing medical complications than mothers in older age groups

No two teens who become pregnant share the same experience. This is easy to forget with the stories portrayed on MTV’s so-called reality shows. It’s hard to see past the glamorized magazine covers, a good paycheck and, of course, fame. Even though MTV shows the harsh realities of raising a child in high school, I believe most teens’ perceptions are clouded by the constant publicity and interest that these girls receive.

While some girls decide not to have babies as teenagers, some might see having a baby as less of a mistake, and more of an opportunity to be on TV.

In February, ABC News reported that when two friends of Jenelle Evans, a mother on “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom 2,” got pregnant, eyebrows were raised. What the two friends have called a coincidence has fueled speculation that they got pregnant for fame’s sake. Stories like this (although few) prove that making celebrities out of MTV teen moms is a huge mistake.

As media consumers, we can’t just accept any information we see on TV and read in magazines as good information. The sensationalism and glamorization of teen pregnancy through the shows “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” and the media are sending the wrong messages to already hormonal teens.

Maybe MTV should try creating a show that highlights a different path that teens can take, such as going to college or establishing a career after high school. A show such as this could give hope to students battling adversity, who may not think they can ever get into college, and create a spark of interest for students who may not know the true value of receiving an education.

With questions stirring as to reasons why teen pregnancy numbers are still high, teens needs to think about the media and its influence on such actions. As the American cartoonist Scott Adams stated, “You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential.”

Shontel Stewart, 17, is a senior at Miller Grove High School who hopes to get a good score on the SAT.

This piece originally appeared in VOX Teen Communications’ Back to School edition of the newspaper. Read more and weigh in on stories written by and for Atlanta-area teens at voxrox.org, or write a letter about this story to editor@voxrox.org.

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