Recently I heard the distressing news that in a school in Memphis, 90 girls were pregnant or had become mothers in the last year. Shelby county, where the school is located, is a very poor area with almost 100% of the students qualifying for federal funding for free school lunches. In this school, a student and teen mother says, there is no sex education class, even though 11% of the school’s population is now a parent.
Immediately there was a lot of talk about shows such as 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, being responsible for, not just this case, but the rising rate of teenage pregnancy in this country. Everyone from Kim Kardashian to Roxanne Shante has voiced their opinions on the matter and their distress that MTV is glamorizing teen pregnancy. Yesterday, Rosie O’Donnell argued the other side. She said that she watches this season’s “Teen Mom”, with her 13 year old daughter, and finds that MTV sends a definite message about the hardships of teen pregnancy and does not advocate or glamorize teen pregnancy. Now I never thought I would say this, but I agree with her.
For a start, the teen pregnancy rate has been increasing since 2006. “16 and Pregnant” was first aired in 2009. So obviously teen pregnancy was happening, and should have been a major talking point, long before MTV decided to thrust it into the public’s consciousness through the television show and made people pay attention to the bigger issue. Rosie 1, K’Dash 0.
As anyone who has ever seen the show would know, MTV make a point of showing the girls struggling with being mothers and losing their carefree teenage ways. Each commercial break finishes with a voice-over stating that teen pregnancy is 100% preventable, and directs teens to the it’s your sex life website. REF. Almost every episode ends with the girls monologue, where they all say that they wish they had waited to have sex and they aren’t ready for the tremendous responsibility that comes with having a child. Further, most of the girls find out that their ‘perfect’ relationship with their baby daddy, is not so perfect after all, and in Teen Mom, the majority of the girls are dealing with not only having a child, but doing it on their own. Not so glamorous is it? Rosie 2, K’Dash 0.
I have heard the argument that some girls are deliberately getting pregnant in an effort to get on tv and become famous. I’m sure that there are some girls who are stupid and immature enough to do that, but as the Maury Povich show has shown for years, these girls are going to be stupid and immature anyway, and it should be up to the family to try and teach them about the hardships of being a teen mother. Today I joined the Teen Mom Facebook group and from the hundreds of posts on the discussion board there are only a handful of posts even expressing interest in being on the show, and most of these were met with dismay from fellow posters. As one person wrote, ‘teen mom is the reason I am on birth control’. Therefore, if shows such as Teen Mom can help raise awareness about safe sex and pregnancy prevention for millions of girls (at last count the Teen Mom Facebook page had 3,262,902 followers), then why should the immaturity and sheer stupidityof a few jeapordise that? Rosie 3, K’Dash 0.
Blaming the media for a social problem is an easy way for politicians and even teen mothers to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions or in-actions, but it does not address the whole issue. As Terrika Sutton, the school girl from Memphis who was interviewed said, her school did not have (at the time) classes about sex education, be it abstinence education or learning about birth control, but obviously it was needed. Instead of focusing on demonizing television programs, why don’t we focus more on pressuring governments and school officials to broadening the education offered about sex and parenting at school?
I think that MTV, with such a massive audience, in the prime age bracket for learning about sex education, has the unique opportunity to be able to talk to teenagers and get throught to them much better than teachers in a classroom, or even parents can. So I can’t see the harm in shows being aired that address such big issues. In fact, I think that MTV with 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, has done the community a service, by opening up the debate about how to prevent teenage pregnancy and showing immature girls the reality of being a teen mom.