Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reality TV: The World's Best Birth Control?

Who would have known that getting pregnant before the age of twenty would grant you fame, fortune, and the ability to influence a majority of the population!?  MTV did.  In 2009, the adolescent and young-adult targeting television channel began airing two reality shows.  With the intention of following teens, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom display days in the lives of very young, unmarried couples that got pregnant unintentionally.  Since the shows have been aired, the unplanned teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. have declined… Coincidence? Or factuality?

As reality shows broadcasted by MTV, the argument arises of whether the decline is actually influenced by 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom.  Does MTV correctly portray the hard lifestyles that come along with young, unplanned teen pregnancy?  If you look at many of the magazines or episode trailers, they are mainly about which star got a new tattoo, which teen is spending all their parent’s money, or what couple broke up this time around.  The topics are never concerning the real struggles dealing with babies like, lack of sleep or scrubbing poop stains out of clothing.  Cause that wouldn’t be attracting any viewers…Right?

Recently, many articles and statistics have been released regarding teen pregnancy rates in the United States and how the fall may be a factor of these television series.  When 16 and Pregnant began airing in June of 2009, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that within those next 18 months after the season premier, rates decreased about 1/3 in the overall number of teen births during that time.

The two researchers, Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine, went in-depth and found some direct correlations.  As far as analyzing Neilsen ratings, Google searches, and Twitter, they were able to find a lot of specific data that is actually really interesting.  They found that the most credible information came from social media and the language used, especially on Twitter.  This wasn’t so much of a surprise, knowing how teens act on social media today; rambling on and on and updating their status every 5 seconds… They found Tweets by teenage girls such as, “Watching 16 & Pregnant, taking my birth control now,” and “This reminds me to take my birth control…” while the show was airing, also hash-tagging either name of the show.  Looking into levels of searches on search engines, they found that those locations with higher searches of “16 and Pregnant” showed higher searches of “birth control” and “abortion” as well.  They also studied geographical locations and whether areas with greater viewing had bigger drops in teen births, and they did. Kearny and Levine, in a CNN article about their study, stated that although they are not saying MTV alone is responsible for the decline in rates, they do believe the shows have had an impact.  When the episodes are focused on the girls fighting with their boyfriends daily, arguing with their parents about responsibilities, and not being able to go out with friends, the question arises of, do the viewers really want that kind of lifestyle?

The stars have been pretty consistent throughout the seasons, and Maci Bookout has been a predominant figure since 16 and Pregnant has first begun. She is a good example of the positive influence this show has had, and believes she may be a reason for a correlation between the shows and rates.  Starting off on 16 and Pregnant, and then moving onto Teen Mom, Maci was always known as the ‘classic’ teenager, I guess because she was an over achiever, popular, successful in school, and somewhat athletic…

Always being fed up with her boyfriend, Ryan, they were constantly in fights due to his lack of help and support for their child Bentley.  Compared to the other girls on the show such as Amber, the high school drop out, self-proclaimed party girl who is currently serving a 5-year jail sentence due to drugs, and Farrah, now known as a porn star, Maci became the most well-desired.

She stated that the reason she went on the show in the first place was to show girls how hard it was to be a teen parent and that those who might get pregnant, can see there are options out there, to move forward with their lives and still have goals.
Unlike the other stars of the show, Maci actually took her role and used it in a productive direction to make an impact on the viewers. With now over 1.2 million followers on Twitter, Maci has made a name for herself.  She works to educate young people about teen pregnancy prevention by public speaking and appearances with question and answer sessions.

It’s no surprise people have critiqued Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant as being 'glamorized,’ and the media plays the biggest role in this categorization.  Society views someone being on a magazine cover as a "big face" in the world today.  When we see these stars from 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom blowing up the magazine shelves, does this make it more appealing to the target audience?  The messages can be skewed; "Do not get pregnant, your life will be ruined!" OR, "Get pregnant, you can be the next MTV star!"  Like mentioned before, everyone wants the juicy gossip about Farrah’s plactic surgeries… Not how Caitlynn hasn’t slept in the passed two days because her baby barely sleeps through the night. There may be many effective factors the show has, but there are also the damaging ones coming from the media.

Because of the studies done on this topic, it's a demonstration of how we constantly are being bombarded with advertising, popular celebrities, and reality television.  If certain demographics such as teens, are watching something aimed towards them (Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant), and are also the same ones being affected by national statistics, it’s just another reminder that our decisions really are influenced and based on what we view and where we get our information.

Triggs, C. (2010). GLAD SHE GAVE UP HER SON. People, 73(23), 123-124.

Wilson, Jacque, and Stephanie Smith. "Study: MTV's '16 and Pregnant' Led to Fewer Teen Births." CNN. Cable News Network, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Armstrong, J. (2010). 16 AND PREGNANT Delivers Big. Entertainment Weekly, (1094), 84.
Fischer, Kristen. "Are 'Teen Mom' Reality TV Shows Reducing Teen Pregnancy Rates?" Healthlines RSS News. Health Line, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
"About Maci." Maci Bookout, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Naoreen, N. (2012). 16 and Pregnant. Entertainment Weekly, (1200), 70.


  1. This article does a great job at remaining neutral and stating both sides of the argument. When these shows first came out, I refused to tune in and give them ratings since I'm against supporting the glamorization of teen pregnancy. However, after reading these arguments, I'm glad the people viewing these shows are being positively effected since it does reach so many people, and it does have an impacted.

  2. It is interesting to see how people respond on twitter to these shows! I laughed at the ones that said "taking my birth control now" after watching teen mom. I think these shows support teen pregnancy but also positively effect viewers to not have children. I like the point you make about our decisions are influenced by what we view and where we get our information. I think this is why Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant do a great job of showing teens what being a mom is really like. The more teens that watch these shows will be turned away from pregnancy at a young age which will result in safe sex.

  3. Great blog post! I found the picture of Media Influences & Teen Sexual Behavior interesting and thought it went well with your argument. It's quite fascinating how a television show can make that much of an impact on viewers to have birth rates decrease so quickly in a short period of time. I think the show highlights teen pregnancy, but I believe the educational benefits overshadow the glamorization of teen pregnancy. Having the stars, especially Maci, educate young people about teen pregnancy is the most important aspect of the reality show.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.