Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Teen Mom" Doesn't Control Teen Birth Rate

Originally published in the BG News Wednesday, February 2, 2011.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Emery Co Photo under Creative Commons 3.0

They started out 16 and Pregnant.  Now they’re Teen Mom(s).  And even worse, they’re totally famous.
Yes, the reality stars Dr. Drew set out to “make an example” of have reached celebrity status, worthy of US Weekly and TMZ coverage.
 Supermarket check-outs feel more like confessionals with tabloids constantly promoting these young women spilling their guts all over the publications; “Leah: I’ve Learned From My Mistakes,” or “Farrah Opens Up About Death of Sophia’s Father,” or “Maci: My New Man Isn’t 'Scared' That I Have a Kid,” or “Amber Opens Up About Attacking Baby’s Father.” 
Suddenly, the media is overflowing with baby-mama-drama.  And Amber Portland is an obvious favorite.  After being arrested for striking the father of her child, rumors spread that MTV producers had “told her to do it,” but more shockingly, they pay her 280,000 dollars a year. 

While the former has yet to be proven, the latter is a verifiable fact. 
Throughout the course of the show, Portland has lost 65 pounds, gained three felonies, and received offers from a variety of pornographic outlets for participation in their materials.  With a body transformation, jail time, and a few indecent proposals, this new starlet’s career has taken off, thanks to a rather predictable publicity formula.
Not every “teen mom” has reached infamy like Amber, but each is still utterly humiliated—and then handsomely compensated. 
Maci, Farrah, Amber and Catelynn paved the way.  And then Jenelle, Chelsea, Kailyn, and Leah followed in their footsteps.  Each mom’s dirty laundry has been aired for the whole world to see.  From painful deliveries, sick babies,  and custody battles, to breaking up, dropping out, parental control and working for minimum wage, all are depicted as their sad reality—or living hell. 
Are these young women just feeling the repercussions of their slutty, whorish ways?   
That’s what producers want viewers to take away from the carefully crafted program.  The constant hardships these martyrs encounter, even though some are prompted by direction, can only be described as the ultimate scare tactic. 

And now MTV has been credited with a national decline in teen pregnancies.
In 2009, the birth rate for teenagers in the United States fell to 39.1 per 1,000.  Studies of this size take time and these are the most recent figures available.  2010 may have seen even less.
But 16 and Pregnant premiered in June of 2009.  And the Center for Disease Control said the teen birth rate fell for the first time from 20007 to 2008. Previously, it had been on the rise for two years.
Those with experience studying population data insist recessions influence fertility and according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, this recession started in December of 2007.  When people are worried about money, they’re less likely to have children, and the numbers certainly parallel this notion.
But there’s another trend to consider.  With Bush in office from 2000 to 2008, abstinence-only-until-marriage education was shamelessly over-funded.  His 2006 budget allocated 39 million dollars to the pushers of purity rings—right before a startling rise in teen pregnancy.
Once Obama was elected, this ineffective curriculum received less and less until 2010 when the President cut off the program altogether.  Perhaps giving teenagers accurate information about contraceptives with comprehensive sex-education has something to do with that 6% drop from 2008.
So perhaps the degradation and objectification of the “teen mom” was all in vain. 

Perhaps it doesn’t serve the moral purpose or possess the life-changing effects previously claimed. 

Perhaps it’s just voyeuristic and exploitive reality television that takes pleasure in other people’s misfortune—especially when that misfortunate is perceived as deserved for a young girl’s inability to “save it.”
Or maybe the joke’s on us.  And the “teen mom’s” are laughing all the way to the bank where they’ve started college funds for their unplanned children.


  1. Interesting. I agree that the show is exploitative (as most reality shows are), but I never really thought that the show was advocating that the girls were being "punished" for being "whorish." I always saw it as an attempt to get teenagers to think about being smart about their sex lives. All of the girls on those shows explicitly state that they didn't use protection and that is how they got pregnant. Sexually active teens could learn a thing or two, since they are watching that trash TV anyway.

    But the media frenzy over the girls is definitely disgusting.

  2. Their lives are hard because they spread their legs. Jenelle's mom said so.