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Entries in Teen Mothers (1)

Thursday
Mar032011

Does Media Spotlight Encourage Teens to Become Moms?

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The visibility of teenage moms has exploded in pop culture. Lifetime's The Pregnancy Pact, the Fox hit Glee and ABC Family's The Secret Life of an American Teenager have explored the subject.

But, without a doubt, today's most notorious young mothers are the stars of MTV's hit reality series Teen Mom. The popular documentary-style show chronicles the highs and often trashy lows of teenage girls dealing with the fallout of diapers, dead-beat "baby daddies" and demanding grandparents.

Pick up any tabloid -- Us Weekly, OK! magazine, Life & Style, In Touch -- and these high school moms are elevated to near-celebrity status. Even Saturday Night Live has poked fun at the trend. In a skit spoofing MTV as "Maternity Television," actress Scarlett Johansson plays a 16-year-old girl partying her way through delivery, screaming, "I'm rich, I'm beautiful and I'm fully dilated."

While teen pregnancy may be exploding on TV, teen birth rates decreased six percent between 2008 and 2009, reaching a new low, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

While that's good news, the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world -- twice as high as the U.K., and three times as high as Canada. One in six U.S. girls will become a teen mother, and the annual public cost of teen childbearing is estimated at $9.1 billion.

"There is no fear and shame in teen pregnancy anymore," says Michelle Hankins, who runs a Young Moms support group in Rome, Ga. "Seeing all these teen moms in the media, it makes them less fearful. It's desensitized them, there's just an immunity to the shock value of it."

Media critic Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of Jezebel.com, says when a reality show becomes a popular hit series with multiple seasons, fame is inevitable.

"MTV can be as objective as they want about it, but once these women, these young women, are being followed by tabloids and on TMZ and on the cover of Us Weekly, it's hard to view them as documentary subjects. They're reality stars," she said.

MTV gave a full statement to ABC News:

As part of the filming process we sometimes ask cast members to talk about their stories to provide context and background on what they're going through, but we do not influence the stories in any way -- this is a documentary and our cameras are there to capture real life situations as they unfold.

We absolutely don't solicit and would never knowingly cast anyone who chose to get pregnant on purpose -- that is the exact opposite of the intent of the show.

"16 and Pregnant" is designed to cast a light on the harsh realities teens face when dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. In fact, the show has been called one of the best public service announcements for preventing teen pregnancy because it is a gritty, unvarnished look at the reality of unplanned teen pregnancy, and research by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that among teens who have watched "16 and Pregnant,' 82 percent think the show helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it.


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