Teen Mom UK graced our screens for the first time last Wednesday on MTV, it’s the fourth incarnation of the American franchise. Some people have slammed the show for glamourising teen pregnancy. But is this case? The first season of Teen Mom premiered in 2009 and was a spin off from the hit show “16 and Pregnant”. The popularity of the show led to the release of Teen Mom 2 in 2011 and the less successful Teen Mom 3 in 2013.
Being a huge fan of the show, I have watched each manifestation of the show as we follow the highs and lows of the young mothers. Teen Mom UK, follows five young women at different stages in motherhood, unlike the American versions where the story followed the girls since pregnancy. But do shows like this, which were allegedly planned to teach teens the dangers of pregnancy, make teen pregnancy trendy?
Having two young siblings I realise the difficulties of having babies and toddlers around you constantly and how hard it can be. However, I couldn’t imagine actual labour nor sleepless nights with a new born. Most teenage girls do not have the luxury to have first-hand experience with such young children and so they may watch these shows and see raising children as easy, fun or a way to gain fame. Yes perhaps it is an easy way to become famous, but the struggles of these girls are laid bare for the whole world to see.
“Only 40 percent of teenage mothers ever graduate high school; two-thirds of families begun by an unmarried teen mother are poor. So what does MTV do? It shows how cool teen pregnancy is with a new reality series,” one review of the show by the Media Research Center, which offers a guide for appropriate television to parents, reads.
However, I believe that the show highlights the very hard trials these girls have to go through. A typical episode of the show follows the new moms as they fight with the fathers of their children (many of whom they are no longer in a relationship with), fight with their parents (who are usually supporting them financially and otherwise) and of course struggle financially as well as trying to finish their degree and watch their friends enjoy single life, prom and college without them.
Although many parents fear the influence 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have on their children, teen pregnancy rates have dropped drastically. The rate of teenage pregnancies in Ireland has plummeted, latest figures show. According to annual figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the year 2014 saw 23 births to mothers aged 15 and under, a decline of 44% in the space of five years. This is the lowest teen pregnancy rate since 1953.
In America where the show is set, births to teen mothers have been steadily dropping since 1991, down 44% in nine years, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rates dropped 9% from 2009 to 2010 alone, reaching a historic low of 34 and a third births per 1000 women aged 15-19.
So is Teen Mom encouraging teen pregnancy or is it causing the decrease? Or does it have no effect on how teens behave? There are much easier ways to become famous in the social media age than having a baby and hoping MTV pick you up for their new show. Yes, these girls have gained fame and probably make thousands of dollars doing endorsement deals on social media and from the TV show. They have also become infamous as people outside the show with prison sentence, porn scandals and drug use. But the way the show presents the hardships of being a young mother and trying to continue your life and education is something worth highlighting. So does it really glorify being a teen mom? I don’t think so, but trust me I’ll still be watching!