16 and Pregnant is increasing the awareness of teen pregnancy

Recently, I had the honor of moderating a discussion for the Sex::Tech 2011 Conference with the producers of MTVs 16 and Pregnant Morgan Freeman, Dia Sokol Savage and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

I was fascinated by the responses of members in the audience as well as the reactions I read while  monitoring the online live stream via Twitter. So what did I conclude?

I concluded that the issue of teen pregnancy seems to bring out passionate opinions regardless of where you stand politically. Some people felt the show treated the teen moms too harshly. Others criticized the show for not being harsh enough. Some argued the show serves as a deterrent to teen pregnancy while others felt the show promoted it. Responses were both strongly supportive and resoundingly negative. I suspect some who volunteered opinions had not even seen the show.

I don’t think as a society we will ever agree on exactly what the right message is to send teens about sexuality. In fact, that sentence, in and of itself, will probably trigger a visceral response among some (which kind of proves my point).

The producers of the show are telling a story. Actually, they are simply weaving together a 40 minute narrative based on the reality that each teen mom creates for herself.  The life the teen mom leads creates the outcome on the screen. Life creates art.  The result—- 2.8 million people are watching it, and even more are arguing about it. How we react to the stories of 16 and Pregnant says less about the show itself and more about us and our own attitudes about sexuality. The power of the show is the simple fact that we are talking about it.

Imagine looking at a Jackson Pollock painting.

16 and Pregnant is increasing the awareness of teen pregnancy

The painting is just a thing on a wall. Each of us looks at it and sees something different.  Some read deep meaning into the colors and dynamic arrangement of design. Others just see paint randomly splattered on a canvas.

16 and Pregnant is just a TV show. The cultural phenomena surrounding it is something different.  Like any good piece of art, the show is stimulating an emotional response in the viewer. Kids are talking about it. Adults, teachers and sex educators are talking about it. Parents and kids are talking about it together. Conversations about adolescent sexuality, teen pregnancy and birth control are happening. The show is increasing awareness about the issue of teen pregnancy. We should all agree on that fact. How does the show impact society? Is it good or bad? Well, it is a work of art. Watch the show and decide for yourself.

Jeff Livingston is an obstetrician-gynecologist at MacArthur OB/GYN, also on Facebook.  He can be reached on Twitter @macobgyn.

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  • M.

    As a mother of a 14 year old daughter, whom I just found out is sexually active, I can’t stand that show. I was a mother at the age of 18, my mom got pregnant at the age 15, had my sister at 16, and had my brother 11 months and exactly two weeks later (back in the mid 60′s).

    Before I knew of my daughter’s sexual activity, I found that she watched the show religiously. She sees it as a ‘drama’ and not so much a reality television show. If television producers want to promote such a program, it needs to be on 24/7, like on the web. They edit SO much out of these shows. Kids who watch this show need to see EVERYTHING that being a mother entails, rather than what the producer wants you to see. Show them at the welfare office waiting to talk to a worker about Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Cash Benefits. Show them going through their wallets and realizing that they don’t always money for diapers, formula, clothes, etc. NOT that they live with their parents, and putting them in car seats, driving around seeing friends, going to parties, and the just the social aspect of it. I have YET to see one of these teen mothers show REAL struggle. Babies crying constantly, waking up all hours of the night, giving them medication, setting up day care, and all of the ACTUAL ‘real life’ that is involved in being a teen mother.

    This show sugar coats and glances over the realities of being a teen mother.

  • Kerry Gray

    I have written some ideas for preventing teen pregnancy I would like to share with Dr. Livingston, but his tweet page does not exist.
    Is there an email I can send my ideas to? I speak from personal experience, and also as a mentor and advice columnist for women and girls.

  • http://www.macobgyn.com Jeff Livingston

    M-
    Thank you for your comments.

    Kerry -
    Thank you for your interest. My twitter page is http://www.twitter.com/macobgyn.

    Dr. Jeff Livingston

  • M.

    I wanted to add – I DID graduate from high school with my son in the audience & DID graduate from technical college with both my kids in the audience & have now become a teacher. It IS possible to become something of yourself if you do have a child young, but it is NOT easy!