A s a mother, I was hesitant about tuning in to MTV’s Teen Moms reality show. Ugh, I thought, do we really need a reality program that potentially glamorizes teen motherhood? When I consider how our own city faces such significant problems associated with children having children, it made me shudder.
Yet, to watch this program is to be reminded of how much you must grow up when you become a parent. Perhaps watching these lives unfold may just make teen viewers think twice about having unprotected sex.
The program follows four teenage girls: Maci, Farrah, Catelynn, and Amber, who are 16 years old when they become pregnant and give birth to their babies. During Season 2, the children have become toddlers and the girls are in various relationships with boys, though none are married to — or even living with — the fathers of their children. This statistically is the overwhelming case for teenaged mothers, according to the program.
As I watch, I can’t help but wince as the toddlers are whisked from mother to father and back again, wearing looks of perplexed confusion as their parents manage them while juggling a host of issues. Amber, a high-school drop out, and her boyfriend routinely fight. When the yelling or hitting starts, baby Leah is often present. She responds to their angry outbursts with tears of her own, sometimes standing at their feet as if to say, “Don’t forget, I’m here, too.”
Farrah’s boyfriend died in an auto accident before their daughter was born, so she’s raising baby Sophia alone with some assistance from her parents, though her relationship with her mother is often rocky. (Another fairly common fact shared by teen mothers.) Maci got pregnant by a boy she was dating briefly and now he demands equal time with his son, while she’s trying to go to college and build a life with an old boyfriend.
Most mature of the four is Catelynn and her childhood sweetheart, Tyler. The Michigan couple elect to give up their daughter Carly for adoption, despite appearing the most emotionally equipped to manage a child. It is an interesting choice, since her mother also had Catelynn as a teen. During heated exchanges between the two, it’s evident the strains her pregnancy has placed on an already combative relationship. Catelynn’s mother often swears at her daughter or puts her down. Despite being hurt by her mother’s angry barbs, the teen often reaches out to console her instead of the other way around.
In one episode, a year after Carly’s adoption, the teens drive to West Virginia to spend a weekend with the adoptive family. It is a joyous if bittersweet reunion, as the couple bask in the company of their daughter and her 30-something parents. The teens have even created a scrapbook for Carly that chronicles their young lives together, “so she won’t forget us,” says Catelynn through tears.
Finally, when the goodbyes come and the family drives away, the teens are left to wistfully console themselves about having done the right thing.
Talk about tough love. It’s hard to imagine doing something that big at 16.
What you can’t help but come away with after watching this program is that becoming a parent at such a tender age is a difficult choice. These teens are all still growing up themselves. It’s worth noting, too, that the episodes I watched spent little time showing the girls actually playing or having face time with their babies. That should be in there, but I guess it doesn’t drive up ratings. Or maybe young mothers as a whole just aren’t as engaged with their children, though I doubt it.
There are a variety of issues they do show the girls coming to grips with, like time management, having to finish school, or just coping with the stresses that arise when raising a child. Yet editing helps to smooth out some of the rough edges of life, making the juggle or missed parties on Friday nights seem a bit more palatable. However, the show is also peppered with facts about teen pregnancy and frequently advertises how viewers can learn more about contraception and preventing pregnancy.
Can it make a strong impression on teens? When I look around to see the effects The Biggest Loser has had on our nation’s ability to lose weight, I wouldn’t bet on it.
But to MTV’s credit, they don’t glamorize the lives of these young parents. It’s easy to see the hardships and challenges they face on a daily basis. And how quickly they must learn to grow up — for the sake of their children.