Teenage pregnancy shows like MTV's Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant have been widely criticized by conservative groups, pop-culture thinkpieces, and your parents, for seemingly rewarding teenagers for getting knocked up early in life. While it may be true that these young moms receive public attention for their unintended pregnancies, it's more infamy than fame. The National Bureau of Economic Research published a study that suggests the shows may be lowering national teen pregnancy rates. Oh, so teenage girls might - shocker - actually be able to think critically about the media they consume? Wow, who would have thought.
According to the data, the lives of young moms on 16 and Pregnant serve as cautionary tales to their audience, rather than examples of role models (and it's more than slightly ridiculous that a study had to prove that). In geographic areas across the country where the show was the most popular, the rate of teen pregnancy declined faster than in other parts of the country, possibly preventing as many as 20,000 births since it started airing in 2009, so the study claims. Even more interesting: the study found that social media posts and online searches about birth control increased sharply whenever episodes aired. That's some scared-straight-type 'ish right there.
It would seem that critics of the shows that have spoke against the shaming of the young mothers - which is reflected in many aspects of our culture- were more accurate about the overall public reaction to the show. The moms are made to represent the kind of girls you never want to be--depicted as unintelligent, volatile, and "low class." Instead of being seen as a teaching moment for the sad state of comprehensive sex education in our country, or the lack of access to affordable childcare for mothers who are in school or financially strapped, their very real struggles are used to shame these moms specifically for their lack of foresight, ignoring the larger issues at hand. It also must be said that the mothers are shamed much more than the young fathers on the show, even though last time I checked, the dude was a necessary part of the baby-making. Just saying.
Critique of the show aside, the study argues that teen pregnancy shows have reduced the birth rate by six percent, regardless of how it managed to to that. To me it proves that girls are not only smart enough to think critically about what is put in front of them, but that young people respond to proper sex education, even if they have to take to Google or Twitter to find it (and don't even get me started on THAT).
The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.