For Some Students, 'Teen Mom' Isn't a Cautionary Tale

Young viewers say MTV's 'Teen Mom' is entertainment, not 'birth control.'

Oct. 14, 2010— -- More than three million people tune in to "Teen Mom" every week, making it MTV's highest-rated show. The "16 and Pregnant" spin-off targets women ages 12-34, gripping the attention of young viewers around the country. The show follows teen moms Amber, Maci, Farrah and Catelynn as they tackle the stresses of being a new parent.

Older adults typically agree: the show is a stifling example of what can become of your life if you get pregnant as a teenager.

Bill Albert, spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said the series sends a really powerful pregnancy prevention message.

"MTV is in the entertainment business and [we] are in the teen pregnancy prevention business," said Albert. "Our two worlds have happily and effectively collided to minimize the number of teen pregnancies."

But some young viewers don't view the show as "birth control," but as another reality show to fill the 10 o'clock timeslot on Tuesday nights.

'Teen Mom' Watch Parties

Groups of girls gather on Howard University's campus every week to watch the show. Tressa Blockett, Chastity Bragner, and Dominique Ingram, all juniors at HU, get situated moments before the show. With their laptops open, Twitter pages up, excitement swells as they watch the show's trailer before the episode begins.

"Maci is the best mom, Farrah is the worst mom on the show," Blockett said as the show began.

"Did you see my tweet last week about Amber? That girl has some anger issues," Bragner, a political science major, added. "I'm just ready to see Amber [mother of Leah] punch Gary in the face."

The girls giggled about what scenes they anticipated would be most comical. "This show is purely entertaining," said Blockett, a sports management major at HU. "'Teen Mom,' 'Jersey Shore' … they are all just reality TV shows."

Tuning in weekly to see the drama unfold isn't just a trend on Howard University's campus.

Teen mom and college student Alfreda Turner said she watches the show to see if the girls are going through issues similar to the ones she has faced. Turner gave birth to her 18-month-old son Cameron last April.

'Teen Mom' Draws In College Students

"I watch the show because I can relate to their struggles," said Turner, a senior at Michigan State University. " [We] go through struggles as teen moms … trying to work out custody issues, finishing school while being a single mom."

"I'm invested in these girls," said Lauren White, a senior at University of Detroit Mercy. "I saw them grow up on '16 and Pregnant' so naturally, I'm inclined to watch the show."

The girls featured on "Teen Mom" have appeared on the covers of tabloid magazines such as Us Weekly and OK! Magazine. Us Weekly interviewed Maci in their August issue and discussed her relationship with her new beau and the custody battle with her ex, Ryan.

"I bought the August issue of Us Weekly just because teen moms were on the cover," said Blockett. "I would usually just flip through the magazine at the register … everyone is cashing in [on the teen moms]."

This raises an issue of glamorization. These girls have become household names because they got pregnant as teenagers. Magazines with the young mothers' faces on the cover are flying off the shelves and the millions of viewers each week are indicative of society's obsession with "reality TV" regardless of what's really reality.

"Young girls go through pregnancies every day. They don't make it onto the covers of magazines," said Bragner. "That is not reality."

"The show has become too 'Hollywood,' too glamorized," said Ingram. "Whether subliminally or not, the show is teaching young girls that teen pregnancy is ok … that everything will be alright."

Carol Haynes-Hall, a pharmacist in Houston, Texas, says her 21-year-old daughter watches the show. She doesn't think it is enough to scare teens out of having sex.

"In the back of [their] heads, a lot of young people think that [this] will never happen to them," said Haynes-Hall. "And let's not talk about the STDs associated with having unprotected sex."

But Albert contends that nothing about the show is glamorous.

"If you think the show 'Teen Mom,' glamorizes teen pregnancy, than you must think 'The Biggest Loser' glamorizes obesity," said Albert.

'Teen Mom' Realities

Blockett and her friends who watch the show all agreed that the "16 and Pregnant" series was more humbling and didn't put teenage pregnancy in a glorified light. The show shed light on the difficulties of telling your parents you are pregnant, walking through the halls of high school being stared at and being pressured to graduate from high school while preparing to be a mother. The girls agreed that those realities were much more startling.

A child born to an unmarried mother has a 27 percent chance of growing up in poverty, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Teens and young adults who say the show puts teen pregnancy in a positive light aren't likely paying much attention to the black slates that appear at the end of some 'Teen Mom' scenes: "Teen Pregnancy is 100% Preventable."

Pregant Again?

At the beginning of Teen Mom's second season, two of the characters thought they might have be pregnant again.

"Amber thought she was pregnant again … she obviously didn't learn her lesson. Catelyn thought she was pregnant again too … the show makes pregnancy look ok," said Bragner.

"I don't think the show is the best birth control," said Blockett. "Kids are going to do what they want to do. I think it's important to not only preach abstinence, but teach the importance of protection."