The Mixed Messages of Teen Mom Reality TV
How did 21 year old mom Amber Portwood make $140,000 in six months? She had a contract with MTV to be on the reality tv show, Teen Mom. Like other young women on other teen mom reality shows like Teen Mom 2, and 16 and Pregnant, she is a young mother who became famous for making an “unplanned detour into parenthood.”
Is this really a good thing for young women? Lauren Dolgen, senior vice president of series development at MTV and creator of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, says yes. She says she created these shows as a way to make an impact on what she believes is a “preventable epidemic.” After learning that 750,000 15-19 year olds become pregnant in the U.S. she wanted to create shows that did not sugar coat the realities of teen pregnancy and motherhood.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, it works. It reported that “4 in 10 teenagers who watch an episode of 16 and Pregnant talk to a parent afterwards,” and 90% “think teen pregnancy is harder than they imagined before watching the series.” And despite these series, over the last 20 years, teen pregnancy has consistently declined.
Young people may realize parenthood is harder than they thought, but is this enough to counter the other message that comes with these shows—that if you get pregnant you can become famous. They too, if they play their pregnancy cards right, can make thousands of dollars and become tabloid staples like the stars on these shows.
In today’s times, the lure of fame is very powerful, and the preventative intent behind these shows might compete with our “fame” culture. Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, in their book, The Narcissism Epidemic, discuss today’s “self-branding” celebrity culture. We see all over the place in the reality tv world that becoming a reality tv star is a way to self-brand yourself. But when teen moms try to self-brand in this way to become famous, it changes their lives forever.
On one hand they see the hard realities of young parenthood. On the other, they see their peers who are famous and all over magazine covers, news stories and who have get paid more money than most young people can imagine having.
What’s more powerful? Seeing the reality or pathway to fame? Let’s hope the reality continues to win out.