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'16 and Pregnant' in the classroom

It's one thing to wonder whether the teen mothers made famous by such reality TV shows as "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" belong on the covers of tabloid-style magazines.

Challenges: Maci and son Bentley in MTV's "Teen Mom." (MTV via Associated Press)

It's another thing altogether to wonder whether they belong in the classroom.

Last year the Kaiser Family Foundation worked with MTV, which produces and airs both shows, and the D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to make copies of the first season of "16 and Pregnant" and discussion guides available for use in teaching teenagers and young adults about the perils of teen pregnancy. Intended for use by community groups, some teachers and schools have availed themselves of the kits (which you can order, for free, here) for classroom use, according to Amy Kramer, director of entertainment media for the National Campaign.

There are those who argue that shows such as these glorify teen pregnancy. But I'm with Kramer, who says, "If anything, this show ["16 and Pregnant" is the best birth control I've ever seen."

The debate over glamorizing teen pregnancy has been in high gear since then-16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears announced she was expecting in December 2007. Spears was supplanted as poster girl for teen pregnancy by Bristol Palin, whose recent selection as a "Dancing with the Stars" contestant has raised questions as to whether her life as a teen mom may appear unrealistically rosy to impressionable young women.

But anybody who's watched "Teen Mom" or "16 and Pregnant" knows they don't paint a pretty picture of teen pregnancy. Here, for instance, is what the current episode of "Teen Mom" is about:

Maci questions whether her boyfriend Kyle is ready to date a teen mom and be a real part of her son's life, while Farrah tries speed dating. Amber works toward her GED until she realizes that finishing high school with a baby is harder than she expected....

And here's a summary of a "16 and Pregnant" episode:

Lizzie has two loves in life: her boyfriend Skylar and her passion for playing music. When her pregnancy forces her to drop out of high school and the marching band, Lizzie looks to her boyfriend Skylar for support...until she discovers he hasn't always been faithful. Without music or Skylar in her life, Lizzie's world looks a lot less perfect.

If I were a teenage girl, I wouldn't find that glamorous at all.

I happen to live with a teenage girl -- my almost-17-year-old daughter. I asked her whether such shows should be aired in health class (where her school teaches sex education). She was all for it. "It would engage everyone in the class," she said, noting that by mid-high-school, kids are yawning their way through sex ed. "Plus, everyone has already made up their mind about what they're going to do" regarding sex, she says.

Out of the mouths of babes.

I know you have an opinion about this. Please make it known by voting in today's poll and commenting, below.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 2, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Life's Big Questions , Pregnancy , Sex , Teens  
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I stumbled upon a 16 and Pregnant marathon a few months ago. I ended up watching several episodes. I can't imagine any teenager finding teen parenthood glamorous based on this show. It was very sad and at times difficult for me to watch, especially the the 17 yr old with twins (!). I think seeing how hard it truly is to be a teen parent would be an excellent experience for a high school health class. Just hearing it or reading it in a book will not have the same effect.

Posted by: SweetieJ | September 2, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

This is not new. Channel One (the captive audience video news that schools make their kids watch in return for some video equipment) ran profiles on teen moms more than ten years ago.

Show girl getting up at 4 to shower before kid wakes up, show her feeding him before she goes to school, show coming straight home to care for baby, show her staying up too late trying to catch up with schoolwork so she doesn't drop out, show her crying about how she didn't go to prom, show her dithering about staying with the boy responsible, etc. Oh, how hard it all is.

The obvious message was, a baby is a burden. It seemed the unstated message was, a baby is a punishment

Posted by: di89 | September 2, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

If it's not supplemented with comprehensive sex ed, it's not going to be effective. It's too bad that your daughter's peers yawn their way through sex ed. My sex ed classes were based on a Planned Parenthood curriculum in the 90's and they were great.

It's true that most kids have their minds made up, which is why age-appropriate sex-ed should be part of the curriculum from a young age. Also, while their minds are made up, the proper use of contraception needs to me drilled into their heads.

Posted by: MzFitz | September 2, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Where is the show "Teen Dad" or do you think young girls get pregnant by themselves? Why not also show teen dads and their struggles, i.e., the handsome super jock who has to leave the team to get a part time job while still in high school to help take care of a baby? The sexism here is sadly, too obvious. :( :( :(

Posted by: 424me | September 2, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

better still, why not show a teen PARENT, high school age and HIV positive?

That should get everyone's attention and yes, teen age girls AND boys can and do get HIV/AIDS.

Posted by: 424me | September 2, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't think showing these program will hurt, but I don't think they will help. So many teenagers have friends with kids, and see this day to day, and then have babies anyway. Why would a girl on a program be more convincing than those in real life?

Posted by: saturn_og | September 2, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Why are we so puritanical and so unaccepting of teen pregnancies? Most nations handle it much better than we do.

Some parents destroy their relationship with their daughter who gets pregnant. Others pack her off to an aunt or grandmother in another state. Some just kick her out of the house.

We are not as life affirming as we should be. We delay adolescense way too long. We need to give our children unconditional love.

Posted by: alance | September 2, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

It's an easy answer, 424me. Teen dads can check out. Teen moms can't.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | September 3, 2010 2:03 AM | Report abuse

I've never seen this show, so I can't judge its worth. I can say, though that in a lot of cases, showing this only to high school age teens is waiting too long. Show this to pre-teens in grades 6-8, before they become sexually active.
Another good way to deter teen pregnancies is to take teens on a 'field trip' to women's homeless shelter, a domestic violence shelter, have them spend their spring break week with a teen parent actually living the life. That will teach them things a movie cannot.

Posted by: momof20yo | September 3, 2010 5:33 AM | Report abuse

I have this really wild and original idea: parents do some parenting. I know, call me crazy but I am just thinking out loud here.

Posted by: biffgrifftheoneandonly | September 3, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

What these girls did not have to do is move from mom (and dad)'s house. They seem to have cars. Farrah finally got a job but has a babysitter paid by the state?

The show does a good job of showing that teenage boys are not ready to be fathers and wow, they find other girlfriends fairly quickly after the baby is born.

Adoption is never discussed but there probably wouldn't be as exciting show--watching some of these girls keep their thin figures, their cars, their homes---that's reality tv.

Posted by: ariesgirl4 | September 3, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

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