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16 and Pregnant. (Photo: Courtesy of MTV)

Reality Shows ’16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom’ Teach Teen Viewers Nothing

• January 10, 2014 • 12:13 PM

16 and Pregnant. (Photo: Courtesy of MTV)

Though the programming is marketed as a public service, “heavy viewers” have terribly misguided ideas about teenage motherhood.

Despite the creator’s insistence that bad MTV reality shows about teenage mothers are designed to “tell the honest, unpleasant truth of teen pregnancy in America” and provide some kind of nebulous public service, new research by professors of communication at Indiana University and University of Utah shows that “heavy viewers” are actually clueless about the realities of having a child at a young age.

Instead, the most dedicated fans among the 185 high school teenagers (between the ages of 14 and 18) surveyed were more likely to be under the impression that “teen mothers have an enviable quality of life, a high income and involved fathers.” Only 20 percent of young men admitted to watching the shows, but the correlation also crossed gender lines.

Though the stars are reportedly paid more than $60,000 and regularly have tabloids chasing after them, almost 50 percent of real teen mothers never graduate from high school and pull in $6,500 annually “over their first 15 years of parenthood.” They also have unhealthy babies that end up living terrible lives, with “poorer educational achievement, life satisfaction, and personal income.”

Though the researchers were not allowed to ask about sexual behavior, they concluded that false perceptions might also lead the teens to have unsafe sex. “This study makes a valuable contribution because it links exposure to specific content — teen mom reality programming — to teens’ perceptions of teen motherhood,” the researchers wrote. “While it would be inappropriate to suggest that viewing these programs is the cause of teen pregnancy, one might consider it a contributing factor.”

Ryan Jacobs
Associate Digital Editor Ryan Jacobs joined Pacific Standard from The Atlantic, where he wrote for and produced the magazine’s Global and China channels online. Before that, he was a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Follow him on Twitter @Ryanj899.

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