MTV’s Shows Sample Essay.
Draft Compare Contrast
September 10, 2017
Professor Ashlei Woelk
When watching shows such as MTV’s 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom, it is easy to assume that reality television has glamorized what it means to be a pregnant teenager or a teenage parent. Despite these easy assumptions, studies have shown that in areas where MTV’s reality programing is viewed, the teen pregnancy rate has declined since first airing in 2009. Viewers of these reality shows can develop unrealistic expectations of what happen to relationships when a teen becomes pregnant. All of the relationships with friends and family become intensely complicated. Viewers may also develop unrealistic expectations for after the child is born in terms of education, self-sufficiency, and parenthood in general. Despite these expectations and perceptions, both reality television and real-life can agree on the importance of contraception and sexual education to reduce and prevent teen parenthood. Studies show that parent involvement in teaching kids about contraception and sexual education reduces teen birth rates. Furthermore, viewers of MTV’s reality programming have reduced the teen birth rate.
There is considerable debate surrounding the level of influence media has on people’s perceptions and expectations of childbirth (Luce, Cash, Hundley, Cheyne, Teijlingen, & Angell, 2016). A common concern is that reality TV effects how childbirth is perceived in society. Viewers may have unrealistic expectations of having time to themselves, finding child care, completing school, finishing college, or being self-sufficient (Dockterman, 2014). Something that reality TV viewers rarely consider, is equality of representation. For example, reality television is more populated by the working class and does not give a voice to ordinary people (Stiernstedt & Jakobsson, 2016). University studies show that teenagers who perceive reality television as realistic are the most likely to develop these perceptions (Vlahakis, Martins, 2014). A key problem with younger viewers, is that they do not understand that much of “reality” TV is scripted, and thus even more unrealistic. Perceptions of pregnancy and childbirth are greatly affected by reality TV programming, despite highly screened candidates and scripted episodes, leaving easily-influenced children at-risk of misunderstanding the reality of teen parenthood.
Despite assumptions that watching reality television glamorizes teenage pregnancy, the teen pregnancy rate has declined since 16 and Pregnant first aired in 2009. In fact, teen birth rates are at a 9-year record low. Since 1991 the rate down 44 percent in nine years, a record low (Dockterman, 2014). A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that the teen pregnancy rate declined faster in areas where viewers watched more MTV programming. In fact, the study suggested that 16 and Pregnant prevented more than 20,000 births to teen mothers in 2010 alone (Dockterman, 2014). As it turns out, 16 and Pregnant inspired viewers to use contraception (Goldstein, 2014).
Both reality TV and the real world can agree on the importance of reducing and preventing teen pregnancy. Studies suggest that by teaching contraception, educating about abortion, and through parent involvement, teen pregnancy can be reduced. Two University of Maryland professors studied the MTV “Teen Mom” franchise, and determined it did far more good than harm (Goldstein, 2014). My reviewing Google Trends, Twitter, Nielsen ratings, and Vital Statistics birth data, they found that teens who watch “16 and Pregnant” immediately go online to learn and discuss birth control and abortion. One such Tweet was, “Just watched ’16 and Pregnant,’ remembered to go take my birth control.” A separate Indiana University study found that viewers of the programs whose fathers spoke with them about sex education and the ramifications of unprotected sex were less likely to have frequently have sex (Vlahakis & Martins, 2014). Conversely, viewers whose fathers didn’t discuss sex were more likely to have recently engaged in sexual relations. Spreading the word about contraception, birth control and the risks of unprotected sex through popular media is having some positive effect. The 2012 study echoes that what has the most effect on teen’s view of sex, is what they hear at home and at school
Being a parent is not an easy task. Being the parent of a teenager is exponentially more complicated than being the parent of a four-year-old. Despite the age of our children, we can only do our best. One of the biggest issues facing teenagers is sexual activity. Adolescents are faced with choice about rather or not to become sexually active, who to be active with, what safety measures to take, and how they can talk to. It is easy for parents to conclude that shows such as 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom glorify the intense and stressful situation of teenage pregnancy and parenthood. However, the facts are, that viewing such shows reduce teen birth rates. This is in no small part due to MTV’s commercial programing that stresses the importance of being a kid and how you can never get that time back. Even so, nothing can replace the importance of talking to parents about teen sexual activity. It is not a comfortable topic, but failing to do so easily leads to misconceptions about relationships and unrealistic expectations. Parent involvement in sexual education can prevent an adolescent from becoming sexually active, or at minimum, encourage the use of contraception. It is critical for parents to play a role on their children’s sexual education so that they understand the reality of what teen pregnancy and parenthood is.
Dockterman, E. (2014, January 13). Does 16 and Pregnant Prevent or Promote Teen Pregnancy?
Retrieved from http://time.com/825/does-16-and-pregnant-prevent-or-promote-teen-
Goldstein, J. (2014, April 9). How MTV’s ’16 and Pregnant’ led to declining teen birth rates.
Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-
Luce, A., Cash, M., Hundley, V., Cheyne, H., Teijlingen, E. V., & Angell, C. (2016). “Is it
realistic?” the portrayal of pregnancy and childbirth in the media. BMC Pregnancy and
Childbirth, 16(1). doi:10.1186/s12884-016-0827-x
Stiernstedt, F., & Jakobsson, P. (2016). Watching reality from a distance: class, genre and reality
television. Media, Culture & Society, 39(5), 697-714. doi:10.1177/0163443716663643
Vlahakis, G., & Martins, N. (2014, June 9). Study: Heavy viewers of ‘Teen Mom’ and ’16 and Pregnant’ have unrealistic views of teen pregnancy