MTV's 'Teen Mom' and Its Effect on Young Girls

MTV’s hit show “Teen Mom” has created a stir with its premiere in 2009. Now in its fourth season, and with spin-off “Teen Mom 2,” many are considering its effect on young girls, especially in light of recent news about its stars.

Teen couple Catelynn Lowell and Tyler Baltierra has announced plans to marry on July 15, 2013. The couple was first featured on “16 and Pregnant” then followed throughout “Teen Mom.” They were the first couple to choose adoption for their daughter Carly.

In other news, “Teen Mom” Amber Portwood is in trouble again for violating her probation. Her story was one of the four original stories told on “Teen Mom,” along with Catelynn Lowell, Farrah Abraham and Maci Bookout. Portwood was arrested and charged with domestic violence after hitting fiancé Gary.

Portwood pled guilty but was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation. Today, though, news reports state that she is due in court on Jan. 13, for violating her probation. The report by police lists her violations as: “Failure to behave well in society; failure to obtain GED; failure to successfully complete six months of anger management classes, and failure to set up educational fund for daughter.”

What is the message that “Teen Mom” is sending to young girls? With these two very different stories of success and “failure,” are they depicting real life or simply sending mixed messages?

The show has dealt with issues surrounding adoption, the mental and emotional anguish of being a single mother, the financial strain on families, dating after having a child, and substance/physical abuse.

Watch the new trailer for "Teen Mom 2" here:

Critics have said that MTV glamorizes teen pregnancy and encourages young girls to get pregnant. Parents Television Council Senior Director of Programs’ Melissa Henson told Dr. Oz, on The Dr. Oz Show, she has “no doubt about [the show’s] good intentions. But the problem is MTV.”

She explained that MTV promotes the show by involving tabloids and feeding them exclusive stories about the girls. The show then “becomes a short-cut to fame more than cautionary.”

“Teen Mom” creator Lauren Dolgen insisted, “This is a real, gritty look at what these girls are going through. They give up a lot; they go from teenager to adult in an instant.”

She argued that the show has “opened up conversation about a preventable epidemic.”

Maci Bookout, one of the “Teen Mom” stars, told Henson, “We have a better message than the tabloids do.”

In spite of reports that young girls have been getting pregnant in hopes of being on the show, the teen pregnancy rate has actually gone down. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Teen birth rate declined 8 percent in the U.S. from 2007 to 2009, reaching a historic low at 39.1 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19 years.”

Also, “In 2009, [the birth rate] was the lowest it has ever been in the nearly 70 years for which national data are recorded.”
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, told NBCLA “Teen Mom” is “normalizing teen pregnancy, creating an acceptance of it. The show sexualizes teenage girls and celebrates the ‘act’ without consequence.”

The Christian Post spoke with Tami Richmond, MSW, about this subject. She told CP: “I don't think it glamorizes pregnancy, I think it tries to show that being a teenage mother is not easy nor glamorous. I know that there are articles in US Weekly and such with follow-ups on the girls.”

But, Richmond notes, that only adds to the reality of the girls’ lives. Articles featured in magazines provide details about major events in their lives: weddings, court proceedings or even suicide attempts.

Richmond also pointed out that “not many of the dads seem to have stuck around, and I think that shines through in the show, too.” Indeed, only a handful of teen dads are still in the picture.

“Teen Mom” may be criticized for glamorizing pregnancy, but teen pregnancy is a fact our nation has a problem with. The show itself has been very popular for its four seasons. Whether the pregnancy rate continues to decline is still unknown.