Why this week's finale of MTV's '16 and Pregnant: Life After Labor' should be the start of the network's look at the realities of teen motherhood, not the end.
Every Thursday night for the last six weeks, MTV has introduced us to another teen girl who is 16 and Pregnant.
They are six of the more than 450,000 teens who give birth on average each year. The trend of teen motherhood is on a scary upward tick, with the rate rising 5 percent between 2005 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So does 16 and Pregnant work to help reverse that trend, or make young motherhood seem trendy and glamorous? It does a little bit of both. The show does have a "scared straight" edge to it. Pregnant teen Farrah is the subject of gossip and ridicule and nearly brought to tears as her friends prepare for a night out while her newborn sleeps in the nearby crib. Maci has to give up dance team because her fiance is unreliable for childcare and her mother has been shouldering too much of its burden. Amber shows that labor is long, hard and painful.
The Appeal of Pregnancy
But to a 16-year-old's eyes, especially one whose home life isn't easy to begin with, these girls' lives could look pretty appealing. "There's a lot of emphasis on how 'cool' it is to have your own place and be moving in with your boyfriend," says Corinne A. Gregory of Bellevue, WA, mother of teen and tween-aged daughters and founder of Social Smarts, a social skills program for adolescents. "Lots of scenes depict teens showing off their new places to their friends. Even if you intersperse that with 'reality' scenes, what are the predominant images a viewer will take away from the program?" The show omits many of the stone-cold facts about teen pregnancy. A teen mom is at higher risk of preterm birth and her baby at greater risk of low birth weight and infant death. Those babies are more likely to suffer health problems, score lower in math and reading than their peers, be victims of abuse and neglect, be placed into foster care and repeat the cycle by becoming teen parents themselves, according to the CDC.