Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Choice Words: Teen Pregnancy on MTV

Teen Pregnancy on MTV
June 29th, 2009 by Chen

Last week I wrote about Young, Single and Pregnant, in which a 22 year old young woman was unexpectedly pregnant and shared her decision to have an abortion on a New York Times blog. This got me thinking about discussions of abortion on TV. MTV has a new show called 16 and Pregnant. It is a one-hour documentary following a teen through her pregnancy as she deals with her family, her friends, and the baby’s father. So far three episodes have aired and I am guilty of having watched two of them. (It’s summer… I got time to watch TV…)

On the one hand, I applaud MTV’s efforts to engage in discussions of sexual behavior in young people through a public information campaign called IYSL, It’s Your Sex Life. The campaign is a pretty good one. It’s in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, so I know it’s got reputable people behind it. The campaign encourages several things: talking to your partner about sex, getting tested for STDs, and how to protect yourself. Overall, it’s a lot of good information. If you’ve watched MTV, you may have seen the PSAs broadcast during commercial breaks. I’ve definitely seen them.

For a one hour TV documentary that had to compress footage from almost a year, “16 and Pregnant” is pretty good in that it shows many of the hardships of parenthood, if somewhat formulaic. Gossip runs rampant at school, the pregnant girls have to change their lifestyles to accommodate their babies, they have to talk to their baby’s fathers, they have to deal with their own parents.

Watch full episodes of 16 and Pregnant here. The trailer to 16 and Pregnant is here.

16 and Pregnant is used as a part of the It’s Your Sex Life campaign. IYSL.com has clips of the show and uses it as a starting point for discussions about teen pregnancy. Either MTV is massively promoting its own shows or trying to give teens good sex ed information, or some combination of both. The MTV website for the show has links to its IYSL campaign.

All this talk of teen pregnancy via a public information campaign and a new TV show leaves me feeling that we have left out a rather large part of teen pregnancy: teens who terminate their pregnancies or put their children up for adoption. After the trials and tribulations, each teen mom in the show ultimately comes away with optimism and a cute little baby. The show allows us to see these difficulties of motherhood and it also demystifies teen motherhood. I think it’s demystifying that makes it more acceptable. I don’t think that the difficulties of motherhood will necessarily dissuade young girls from becoming parents because people have a great capacity to overcome these difficulties and every mother regardless of her age has to get up in the middle of the night for the baby. It makes me wonder if “16 and Pregnant” has a “war movie effect”. Most war movies glorify war because they emphasize camaraderie, patriotism, sacrifice, and victory. In the same vein, does 16 and Pregnant glorify teen motherhood? And cute babies and loyal soldiers make great television.

The materials on pregnancy in It’s Your Sex Life campaign do talk about abortion and adoption, but MTV’s programming lacks any serious discussion of these options. In 16 and Pregnant, all the girls have decided to raise their babies because that’s the concept of the show. I wish MTV had explored want to explore the decision-making process. Or maybe even have a show that featured girls who had abortions and adoptions. Not that I think for a minute that this will happen, since abortion is a censored word on TV, and MTV isn’t doing anything to demystify adoption or abortion.

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