Since they debuted, MTV’s hit shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have been lightning rods for controversy. Many groups have claimed that the shows glorify teen pregnancy and give undeserved fame to young mothers, while others believe that the show’s realism is a necessary addition to TV. This weekend’s New York Times seemed to take the latter opinion, interviewing several educators and social workers who have been using the shows as a teaching tool. Megan Clark, a teacher in a small town in Kansas, told the Times that she uses clips from the show in a life skills course. “I talk about abstinence first and foremost, but I listen to them, so I know they’re not abstinent. So the show offers a good opportunity to teach them about condoms and birth control,” she said.
“The biggest debates are over how the girls disrespect their own parents,” she added. Considering the amount of screen time that Janet Rivera and Barbara Evans got this season, it’s no surprise that issues like that come up. One takeaway from this show is that having supportive parents is a major key toward success – Maci Bookout and Leah Messer both have extended families that are involved in their lives and help them raise their kids, which results in happier and better-adjusted young parents. Compared to a show like Secret Life of the American Teenager, where a teen mom can keep her kid off-camera while she continues dating and traveling for the summer, Teen Mom depicts a wider variety of the teen parent experience – though fame does change some of them, we watch things like Farrah Abraham losing her savings to an online scam and Kailyn Lowry dealing with the back and forth custody agreements with her ex-boyfriend Jo Rivera. Though MTV does focus more on the girls’ relationships with their boyfriends and husbands than on the day-to-day particulars of raising an infant, we still see Leah taking her daughter to various doctors and specialists and Maci trying to wean Bentley off of his pacifier.
As the Times article points out, it’s a lot easier to talk about difficult issues through the guise of a TV personality than it is to discuss it through your own experiences, especially when teens feel awkward or uncomfortable discussing sex with their parents. A woman in Rome, GA, who runs a reproductive health center, said that she is considering screening episodes of Teen Mom in the waiting room, because so many girls come to her for contraception by saying “I don’t want to be that girl from MTV.”
Jersey Shore may be colossally entertaining, but I doubt it educates about STDs and steroid abuse the way that Teen Mom educates about teen pregnancy. So for that reason alone, I’m glad we’re still watching Jenelle Evans‘ life implode on TV.