Monday, January 13, 2014

Teenagers Who Watch MTV Aren't Having Babies. Well, Sort Of. A Study Shows That Watching 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom May Have Lowered Teen Pregnancies.

The New York Times brought us an interesting article about teen pregnancy, based on a new economic study. The study showed that teen births have decreased by 6% in the time that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have been on the air.

Per The New York Times:
A new economic study of Nielsen television ratings and birth records suggests that the show she appeared in, “16 and Pregnant,” and its spinoffs may have prevented more than 20,000 births to teenage mothers in 2010.
While there may be validity to this, there are other factors in play. The article openly notes that teen births were lower during the recession. I think that would have a strong impact on the lowering of teen births because when money is hard to come by, people may be more careful, knowing that they can't afford to support themselves, let alone raise a child. And as I understand it, this statistic measures teen births, not necessarily teen pregnancies. Per Wikipedia, in April 2009, Plan B (the morning after pill) became available from pharmacies staffed by a licensed pharmacist to people 17 or older without a prescription. That change in and of itself could have a major impact on the teen birth rate.

The article has more information, though, to support the claim that MTV is helping to lower the teen birth rate. The analysis, done by Melissa S. Kearney, the director of the Hamilton Project, a research group in Washington, and Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College, supports the theory with the following data:

Ms. Kearney and Mr. Levine examined birth records and Nielsen television ratings, finding that the rate of teenage pregnancy declined faster in areas where teenagers were watching more MTV programming — not only the “16 and Pregnant” series — than in areas where they did not. The study focuses on the period after “16 and Pregnant” was introduced in 2009 and accounts for the fact that teenagers who tuned in to the show might have been at higher risk of having a child to begin with.
“The assumption we’re making is that there’s no reason to think that places where more people are watching more MTV in June 2009, would start seeing an excess rate of decline in the teen birthrate, but for the change in what they were watching,” Mr. Levine said.

The study shows additional good data, like the fact that internet searches about contraceptives spike during 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom broadcasts, the fact that the show makes teen pregnancy less secretive and heightens awareness of the consequences of sex.

While I don't think MTV can solely take credit for the decline in birth rates, I'm willing to admit that some of the stories show a very dark side of teen pregnancy. Take Leah Simms' story - she's raising twins, one of which is special needs. The flip side of this, though, is that the show does glamorize teen pregnancy because some participants do become stars, even if not for the right reasons. (Think about the struggles Amber Portwood faced before she was able to turn her life around.) And a lot of the women on the show go on to have even more kids, probably in part because they can afford them based on their MTV salaries, which sets unrealistic expectations for those not bringing in MTV bucks. (Think Kailyn Lowry on this one.)

So do I think this study has validity? Absolutely. I do. But I think there are other environmental factors that need to be considered - the financial climate, availability of birth control methods, etc. And I still stand by my theory that the original seasons of 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom did discourage teen pregnancy, but the show's continuation is where things get dangerous. Why? Because the continual new seasons and availability of instant celebrity - for making a BAD DECISION - does not enforce positive behavior. But if this study can be proven, I'm okay with being wrong!

Update: Here's a study that shows that Teen Mom encourages teen pregnancy and many teenagers are clueless about teen pregnancy. This article states:

Two assistant professors, Nicole Martins from Indiana University and Robin Jensen from the University of Utah, have published a study that presents findings that indicate many viewers of the programs, “believe that teen mothers have an enviable quality of life, a high income and involved fathers.” Teens who perceived reality TV to be realistic were the ones most likely to have these perceptions.

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