Does MTV's 'Teen Mom' Get Real Enough?

Earlier this year, MTV introduced viewers to what it was like to be 16 and Pregnant. Starting Tuesday, the network reveals what happens when those teens trade hanging at the mall for midnight diaper duty in its new follow-up reality series, Teen Mom.

With 16 and Pregnant, we found that many moms used the show as a jumping-off point to talk with their daughters about the dangers of unprotected sex. But many also felt the show portrayed the realities of teen pregnancy with a dose of glamour thrown in, like getting your own place and moving in with your boyfriend. We wondered: Would MTV similarly glamorize the lives of its teen moms?

But watching an advanced look at Tuesday night’s premiere of Teen Mom (10 p.m. ET/PT), all we -- and any teen who watches it -- get is a hard dose of reality.

The program shows how four moms from the original show tackle motherhood’s grown-up challenges. Farrah tries to start dating again, making her family question her priorities. Catelynn faces her family’s anger over her adoption choice. Maci comes to the painful realization that marriage won’t lead to “happily ever after.” And Amber battles depression, frustration and boredom after she drops out of school to be a stay-at-home mom.

Amber’s story deals most closely with the day-in, day-out difficulties of baby-rearing. Being home with 1-year-old daughter Leah leaves her bored and lonesome. When she does go out with a friend, Leah cries so much it’s impossible to eat, let alone have a conversation. Eventually Amber talks to a doctor about what she calls her "constant stress and anxiety" and is prescribed an antidepressant.

“In the beginning, it’s hard being woken up every three hours,” Amber, now 19, tells iVillage (pictured, above, with Leah). “You are just tired. And then you get to that day when you don’t want to get out of bed. Everything hits you all at once, and maybe I couldn’t handle things as much as I thought I could.”

Girls are often caught offguard by the reality of parenting, says Amy Thompson, OB/GYN, who runs the teen pregnancy program at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center in Cincinnati. “During pregnancy, they can still go out with their friends and go to school,” says Dr. Thompson. “And then with a new baby at home, their freedom is really impaired. When you make a conscious decision to do that as an older parent, you accept that as a natural life transition. But for teens, it can be an abrupt change.”

Not just for the mothers, but the fathers, too. For the three girls on Teen Mom who kept their babies, the dad is either not involved or seems desperate to escape. Several teen moms said they hope that the program emphasizes that the work is hard, and more often than not, the girls are left alone to shoulder the burden.

“I expected a lot from my ex, but he said he wasn't ready and just left,” says Shealynn Hindle, 16, of Ontario, Canada, mom to 14-month-old Alysha. “If I could go back in time I would tell myself not to expect anything from any man, until they prove themselves.”

Since being on the show, Amber says she gets messages from girls who aspire to be teen moms. “The girls say they just really want to feel loved,” Amber says. “I tell them ‘This is not the way to seek out love.’ I tell them a bit of my story, and how things are going and that they should wait. Because you don’t know how hard it is until you have the child, but then you can’t turn back.”

Several girls, including Amber, said that while pregnant they could not fathom what day-to-day life with a baby would be like: the exhaustion, the stress, the isolation, the lack of support, and the tough choices they’ve had to make regarding their futures.

“I knew it would not be easy but I certainly did not expect it to be this hard,” says Rebecca Leigh Mason, 17, of Columbus, OH, mother to 8-month-old Aubrey. “I was not expecting the crying, the messes, the lack of sleep, all that. But I think the hardest thing is the uncertainty of knowing if you are a good parent or not. I know everyone has doubts, but all I know is I am doing the best I can with my situation.”

Dr. Thompson thinks that with Teen Mom, MTV has a great opportunity to educate teens about the rigors of teen parenthood and the difficult choices it forces teens to make about their futures. “I think it could be just like all of us parents who watch those Supernanny shows, where you have the kid who is throwing things at the parents, and you think, ‘Thank God that is not my child,'’’ Dr. Thompson says. “I think this has the potential be that show, where teens who were so excited before realize it’s not as easy as they thought.”

Watch the premiere of Teen Mom on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.

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