16 and Pregnant is an MTV show – a show that, as the title suggests, follows the lives of American teenage girls who are ‘facing unplanned pregnancies’. The programme – and its spin off shows, Teen Mom (1,2 and 3) – is one of the channel’s most popular documentary series; but it has also been dogged by accusations that it glamourises teen pregnancy. Even Kim Kardashian has had her say, writing on her blog, ‘girls, these are not people you should idolize’.
But a study released earlier this week shows that the programmes have actually had an inverse effect on the number of teenage births across the US. The research noted spikes in Twitter and Google searches for words such as ‘birth control’ in relation to when the programme was broadcast, and came to a conclusion that the show led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months after it first aired.
That won’t surprise anyone who watches the show regularly. It is far from glossy, and I honestly can’t see the ‘glamour’. I know that this is the point at which I would probably be told to ‘check my privilege’; but the girls’ lives are often a messy struggle of balancing relationships, children, and trying to finish their education. One blogger claimed that the fact that the show ‘chooses to focus on the girls’ volatile relationships with the babies’ fathers’, and sends out press releases titled: ‘Jenelle Runs Up Her Mother’s Credit Card Bill’ was irresponsible. But, as Jenelle Evans responded to one of her Twitter followers: ‘Really, I shouldn’t be anyone’s idol.’ And, as Amber Portwood, another of the Teen Moms, replied to Kardashian:
‘It doesn’t glamorize anything! It shows the heartache we’ve all gone through. We may be “celebrities” because our face is out there, but it’s only because we’ve done some bad things. That’s not glamorous.’
And that’s quite true. Portwood herself has been charged with domestic violence towards her ex-boyfriend, and spent five months in jail after being charged with possession of drugs. Jenelle Evans’s fame stretches to having been arrested numerous times on charges ranging from drugs offences and breaching the peace to cyber stalking. Meanwhile Farrah Abraham, another ‘star’ of the show, has maintained her ‘fame’ by making a sex tape with a porn star and appearing on another reality show, Couple’s Therapy, … alone.
I can’t help but think that any girl who is inspired by those examples probably has issues that MTV can’t be blamed for.