As many of my readers know, I’m a bit of a reality TV junkie. While I miss the music videos on MTV as much as the next person, I have made do with the wide variety of reality shows the station has to offer (even some of the more embarrassing ones, like Jersey Shore, which has become my guilty pleasure!).
And yes, I will admit, I watch the teen pregnancy shows. Because the original cast of 16 and Pregnant featured girls my age, I thought it was interesting to see how having children affected them and think about how different my life would have been if I had made different choices. Over the years, I kept up with them as they graduated to Teen Mom, and while it isn’t the most groundbreaking show on television, I still thought it was intriguing to see how their lives turned out.
In the time since the shows first began to air, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have received a lot of criticism throughout the nation. Many people suggest that such programming only glamorizes teen pregnancy and encourages teenagers to have unprotected sex so that they can have the fairy-tale endings they see on TV.
When I hear this, I have to ask: do these critics actually watch the show? Every week when the show airs, the four girls all have to deal with very serious issues: custody battles, financial problems, difficulty balancing school and work and raising a child, decisions relating to adoption, etc. Not one of the girls has it all completely together. Even Maci, who seems to have adjusted the most to teen motherhood, has been in and out of court with her son’s father, and her schoolwork has suffered so that she could care for Bentley. Meanwhile, Amber Portwood endures postpartum depression early on, and faces legal issues of her own.
Maybe it’s just me, but none of those scenarios sound particularly appealing. When I watch a show like this, it makes me think of how lucky I am not to be in the situation myself. Although I am not knocking motherhood and or trying to disrespect teen mothers, I do think that the show demonstrates very well that being a parent is hard. Being a parent when you’re only sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old is even harder. I never doubted that, but when I watch this kind of thing on television, I see challenges I might never have even thought of.
To make matters worse, some of these girls have also had to deal with the pressures of fame on top of teen parenthood. Their every moves are documented in the latest issues of OK! and Us Weekly magazine, and people across the country are judging their actions. Yes, they chose to be on television, but I doubt if any of them expected to have gained celebrity status so quickly.
The show might give some of these girls a leg up in their future careers, but it has never depicted their lives as easy or perfect. Any viewer with half a brain will see the many difficulties the cast faces, and realize that nothing about the show ever promotes teen pregnancy or makes it seem particularly desirable. When I watch shows like Teen Mom, I am thankful for the decisions I have made, and I know that if I were to get pregnant at even twenty years old, the road ahead would not be an easy one.
What do you think about these types of shows?