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MTV's 'Teen Mom': Pro-Life or Pro-Sex?
After giving birth to my sixth child, I spent two days in the hospital alone -- bonding, nursing ... and totally addicted to a marathon of MTV's "16 and Pregnant."
Watching episode after episode, I was riveted by the brutally honest portrayal of the hardships of teen motherhood. But I was equally captivated by the stridently pro-life message of an MTV show that presented children as a gift, not a scourge, regardless of the circumstances of their conception. As a mom who has experienced the unexpected joy of an unplanned pregnancy, I appreciated that along with the difficulties of being unprepared and immature, the show's producers also let us in on the tender moments and happiness that children bring to any parent's life.
Nonetheless, having a pre-teen daughter of my own, I am concerned about the other messages this "docu-drama" is sending to America's youth.
So far, much of the public hand-wringing about this reality show and it's equally popular spin-off, "Teen Mom," has focused on the celebrity status the show's stars have garnered as a result of their participation. Several of the teen moms now grace the covers of People magazine and Us Weekly, along with Jennifer Aniston and Taylor Swift. Pundits and parents worry about the glorification of teen pregnancy and the implications of national fame and attention that is not based on talent or accomplishment, but rather on one's willingness to have your life filmed under what was once a scandalous circumstance.
My concern is more pedestrian. As a parent, I worry about the casualness with which we see the show's unwed teen couples interact in their parent's home -- pregnant or not. Yes, I know that in this case, these teens clearly had sex (I think of Juno's famous line in the Oscar-nominated movie when asked if her parents might be worried about her whereabouts: "I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?"), But like the movie, where Juno and her boyfriend regularly hang out in her room with the door closed -- a major no-no in my teen years -- there's a level of comfort that the teenagers in these shows have in each other's homes that I suspect was there before the double lines appeared on the EPT test.
When I was a teenager, boys were not allowed in our rooms and boyfriends were not permitted to open the fridge or put their feet up on the coffee table as if they were "just another family member." In a related trend, parents are now allowing boyfriends and girlfriends to appear in the family Christmas card picture, only to create a new holiday dilemma when their daughter breaks up with their boyfriend after the cards are mailed out, as recently happened to a friend of mine.
Today, too many parents are implicitly encouraging their teens to play house and to engage in a level of intimacy and informality that ought to be reserved for grownups in committed and mature relationships. Is MTV encouraging it? No, they're merely reflecting an unfortunate cultural trend. Is "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant" pro-life? Absolutely. Is it also, implicitly pro-teen sex? Unfortunately, yes, because the lesson in these shows is about contraception, not about the emotional or moral perils of sexual intimacy in high school. Should your teen watch it? Only with a loving parent who can help them make this very important distinction.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.