Why to Watch
Nonetheless, many teens say that the show opened their eyes to how hard teen parenthood is. "It definitely made me think twice about having a child so young," says Tyesha Wilson, 17, of Freeport, IL. "What surprised me most was the lack of freedom that the teen parents had and how differently people treat you after having a child." There are parents who encourage their children to watch. "The show definitely leads to conversations that we wouldn't otherwise have, usually about overall life skills, basic cause and effect, and the massive, seemingly overwhelming amount of responsibility of being a parent," says Lisa Hodges of Austin, TX, who watches with her 11-year-old daughter. "I think the show definitely makes these conversations easier."
Some teens did raise an eyebrow over how "real" this reality show is. On the program, the soon-to-be grandparents seem perturbed at best when informed of the pregnancies. They laugh as they recall how their teens' broke the news to them. "My parents would not be relaxed," says 16-year-old Rebeca Frey of New York City, who watches the show. "They'd be pretty disappointed and angry."
Adopting a New Life
There is one episode, featuring Catelynn and Tyler, which does better than all the others at conveying the awesome responsibility that comes with parenthood. The teens both come from dysfunctional families and realize that they love their baby too much to allow her to grow up repeating that experience. They choose to put the baby up for adoption.
Marc Andreas, vice president of marketing and communications for Bethany Christian Services, which handled the adoption, says that they received a "sizeable" number of phone calls and Web site visits after the particular episode aired. "There are so many myths about adoption," Andreas says. "So many times you hear, 'I couldn't carry a baby nine months and give it away.' And no, it's not easy. But Catelynn and Tyler do it. The reality is it can be done and it's a beautiful thing all around even though it's challenging. I think MTV did an outstanding job."
Catelynn and Tyler's story sparked discussion and praise on iVillage's popular adoption message boards. "I watched and cried the entire time," wrote danielledjg. "Everyone thinking of adopting should watch that episode. I was so proud of that young couple. I just wanted to hug them both. It brought back so many memories of walking into the hospital to meet our [birth mother] and then later saying goodbye to her." (Click here to join the iVillage discussion.)
Will these heart-wrenching stories discourage teens from getting pregnant in the first place? Perhaps some couples will think twice. But to really be effective, the show should offer more explanation of the lifelong consequences these girls and their children will face. To its credit, MTV's Web site does offer lots of information about pregnancy and STD prevention. And the show's season finale, 16 and Pregnant: Life After Labor, which airs Thursday, July 23, will feature an update of all six girls' stories. However, the follow-up shouldn't end there. The program should continue checking in with them over the next couple of years, or find teen moms who are now in their 20s who can give much-needed perspective. These young women don't just need to see what it's like to be 16 and opening adorable baby shower gifts. How about a spin-off called 19 with a Toddler, where midnight feedings look easy compared to keeping your cool during a temper tantrum? Now that would be a reality show.