The “’16 and Pregnant'/'Teen Mom’ Effect”January 30, 2012
| When MTV first hit the airwaves in 1981, parents and others worried that the explicit sexuality depicted in many of the videos the new cable network aired 24/7 would cause more teens to have sex. At a time when the teen birth rate in the U.S. was high, with many babies being born with low birth weights or preterm, there were concerns.
Now, 20 years later, some are giving credit to MTV and its reality shows that depict pregnant teens and teen parents for helping bring the teen birth rate to historic lows. It's being called the "16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom effect" because the popular shows about the rigors of pregnancy and parenting could be scaring teens into either abstaining or using birth control.
In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a National Vital Statistics Report with preliminary data for births in 2010. It said that the birth rate for teenagers fell to 34.3 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19, while the number of births to teenagers under age 20 declined 10 percent to 372,252 - the fewest since 1946. The declines are across all demographic and geographic groups.
"The magic formula of less sex and more contraception is responsible for this great good news," Sarah Brown, chief executive officer of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said in a news release. "Teens are being more careful for a number of reasons, including the recession, more media attention to this issue - including the '16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom effect' - and more attention to and investment in evidence-based programs. But at the end of the day, the thanks and admiration go to teens themselves."
Teen Mom follows several young mothers as they struggle in their relationships with their boyfriends and parents and worry about their educations and money - all while raising their children. For instance, one episode shows Maci, a Nashville teen, trying to decide between registering for college classes and getting a job, and staying in her apartment or moving back home with her parents. While Bentley, her toddler, plays with a dump truck nearby, she tells a friend moving away from her boyfriend would be "really, really, really hard."
On 16 and Pregnant, viewers meet girls like Kianna, a Fort Worth, Texas high school senior who is pregnant. She and her boyfriend of a few months, Zak, 15, conceived after she didn't take her birth control pills for three days. Kianna is sad she can't dance with the Dixie Bells or play softball on her school's team. She is uncertain about the future and considering adoption. Meanwhile, her mother, who had Kianna when she was a teen, is furious. "I have told you over and over how hard it is to be a teen mom," she tells Kianna.
All the teens on the show are under the watchful eye of physician and media personality Dr. Drew Pinsky. During a 16 and Pregnant reunion show, Dr. Drew, as he's known, sits by as a young mom cries over her failed and tumultuous relationship with her baby's father. "I know as a young girl this kind of stuff has monumental meaning," he tells her. "Which is another reason young people can't handle having kids. This is how young people treat each other in relationships, but when you put a kid in there, it has big, big meaning."
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