Some statistics: According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 86 percent of mothers who give birth out-of-wedlock are teenagers. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, only 40 percent of teenage mothers ever graduate high school; two-thirds of families begun by an unmarried teen mother are poor; and “Virtually all of the increase in child poverty between 1980 and 1996 was related to the increase in nonmarital childbearing.” So what does MTV do? It shows how cool teen pregnancy is with a new reality series called “16 and Pregnant.”
Airing this summer, the show normalizes teenage pregnancy, following pregnant sixteen year old girls throughout their pregnancies and after they give birth.
The first episode, which aired June 11, followed the life of Maci and her baby’s father, Ryan. Maci introduced herself by stating, “I’m a total overachiever. I get good grades, I play softball, and I’m even on the cheerleading squad.” The second episode, which will air June 18, focuses on Farrah, a sixteen-year-old described by MTV as “a popular cheerleader.” The show should have been named “Pretty, Popular and Pregnant.”
Getting pregnant has it perks for Maci. She and Ryan moved in together. Maci described how, “My high school friends still live at home with their parents so they think it’s really cool I have my own place,” Maci said. She also related how Ryan “even put a ring on my finger.”
To MTV’s credit, it didn’t turn the camera away when things became less “cool” and the couple struggled after Bentley was born. At one point Ryan even stated, “If we didn’t have a kid we wouldn’t be together.” That statement must be magic to the ears of some teenage girls, who believe pregnancy is a way to cement the affections of their boyfriends.
Maci and Ryan considered splitting up, but were still together at the end of the episode, with Maci speculating about a beach wedding the following summer.
In a 2004 survey, the Parents Television Council reported that MTV is the most watched program for those between the ages of 12 through 19. Studies showed watching MTV created a more liberal attitude toward pre martial sex. Teenagers who watch MTV receive messages about sex that are likely to sway their own behavior. So the network is guilty of originally helping to foster the situation and now for exacerbating it by normalizing and even glorifying teen pregnancy.
Of course, it is no secret that MTV has a history of airing controversial material: “Tila Tequila” is a reality dating show for a bisexual; “Real World” “The Hills” and “True Life” all have questionable content.