Teen Mom: Cautionary Tales or Role Models?

I can admit it: I totally found myself absorbed in last season’s ‘Teen Mom‘ and have watched several episodes of ‘16 and Pregnant‘.

Me, a 29-year-old woman.   Yes, a mother myself, but one who is almost 30 and who earned her graduate degree and started her career before becoming one.  A mom who can legally vote and drink and buy scratch tickets.

In other words, I don’t actually have much in common with the moms on the show and most people would say that I am certainly too old to be watching a show about teenagers.

But I couldn’t help myself.

The truth is, even with our differences in age and situation, I could empathize with these young moms on many occasions.

No matter how old you are when you start having kids I think most of us go through a lot of confusion, self-doubt and struggles when that first little baby arrives.  We all make mistakes.  We all second guess our selves and/or the other parent at some point.  We all see our finances change.  We all work to keep our identity.

Or, I guess, I can say that I know I went through all of those things and I am thinking (hoping?) most other moms go through them as well.  16 or not.

So, while I am a little ashamed to admit that I have watched and enjoyed those shows, the bigger picture here is who else is watching and enjoying those shows.  Their ratings are huge in the 12-34 set and the ‘Teen Mom’ cast members have become mini-celebrities.  Or perhaps even full fledged celeb-realities.  I mean, not just anybody gets to grace the cover of US Weekly and their ilk.  They want faces people recognize.  Stories that will sell magazines.  And I have seen these Teen Moms on the cover quite often recently.

When I think about the fact that so many teenagers are watching these shows and then seeing the moms all over magazines and TV, I can’t help but wonder if teen pregnancy is actually getting glamorized, instead of exposed.  Especially when I take into account my experience teaching and working with teenage girls.  Even when I saw girls see another friend get pregnant, I mostly heard words like ‘cute’ and ‘adorable.’

Okay, let’s face it, babies are cute and adorable.

But it always scared me that I did not seem to hear enough about just how hard it is to have a baby.

To have a baby and still go to school.  To have a baby and work.  To have a baby and manage to stay with your significant other.  To have a baby and still have any money.

These TV shows do highlight some of the girls’ struggles, but I wonder if then watching these girls become famous and earn money because they are teenage moms somehow makes it appealing to young girls.  Heck, I actually wonder how it could not make motherhood appealing to teenage girls.

And in my personal life, I feel like I know of lots of teenagers becoming pregnant in the past few years.  Dare I say it even feels like an increase?

But apparently that is just my own anecdotal evidence, because the statistics say that teenage pregnancy is leveling out and even lowering in many areas.  The polls of young people who watch ‘Teen Mom’ and ’16 and Pregnant’ say that most kids find themselves thinking more about different ways to prevent pregnancy after seeing the realities of young parenthood up close.

I guess most of all I just feel conflicted.

Conflicted because I watch these shows even though they are about people 10-15 years younger than I am.  Conflicted because it doesn’t sit well with me that the ‘stars’ of these shows are now on every magazine cover, as well as other TV shows and interviews and celebrity websites, but find myself reading about them.  Conflicted because I want to say that I hope all teenagers will avoid pregnancy, yet know that those who do become pregnant love their child just as much as I do mine.

Personally, this was already a very emotional and entangled topic and the sensation of the ‘teen mom’ has intensified it.  I know these shows are simply supposed to be showing the realities and difficulties of teen pregnancy, but it feels more complex than that.

I am very curious to know what you think about this phenomenon…

*The teacher in me says “Here’s a link if you want to learn more!” I’m not the author of the article(s)  below, but it’s still decent writing, I guess… I mean, if you like writing that isn’t mine.*

MTV’s ’16 and Pregnant’ Sobering for Many Teens, Poll Says by Cheryl Wetzstein; The Washington Times

The Twisted Ethics of ‘Teen Mom’ by Amy Benfer; www.Salon.com

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