Earlier in American history, being a teen mom was considered taboo and rarely spoken about publicly. Now, many teen-aged women seem to view pregnancy as a claim to fame. TV shows like MTV’s Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 glorify teen pregnancy and help bring the phenomenon into the mainstream. These shows follow the lives of teen mothers as they struggle to meet the demands of raising children. While the shows reveal many of the unglamorous aspects of motherhood, they nonetheless romanticize teen pregnancy by making celebrities of the young women whom they spotlight.
I admit that I watched my fair share of these shows when they first came out—fascinated by the hurdles that women my age face when confronted with the demands of motherhood. Now, however, I worry that—by viewing these shows—I may have fueled a phenomenon that I find so troubling. By gawking at the spectacle of young women—practically children themselves—raising their own children, I’m afraid I may have unwittingly inspired the next wave of teen mothers. While the producers of these shows may have intended to teach young women that being a teen mom is not an easy task, I worry that the shows may impart the opposite lesson.
In 2010, a survey was conducted to determine the levels of teen pregnancy in America. The results showed that teen pregnancy is on the rise for the first time in over a decade. In recent interviews, several teens teen mothers reported that they considered getting pregnant as a way to get on TV and possibly become famous. Indeed, many of the participants on the show have become celebrities, gracing the covers of magazines such as People, OK!, US Weekly, in-touch and others.
So why do we Americans have this obsession with teen mothers? Is it because we want to live vicariously through these people? Is it because we love to see others struggle? Or do we crave a glimpse into an unknown world? I suspect that each of the more than five million viewers that tune in to show has his or her own, private motivation. But the collective effect is disturbing. It may help explain the fact 70% of girls and 64% of boys in America think that teen pregnancy is okay. I think it is important that we teach our young people that pregnancy is not a short cut to fame, but a life-altering experience that should not be undertaken until one is fully prepared.