For one terrible minute on Monday night, my remote control found itself on ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager". The show is completely unrealistic in showing 15 year olds pregnant and parenting with the maturity and vocabulary of people in their 30's. However, my remote control has recently become stuck on a reality show of the same topic on MTV called "Teen Mom". Now this is quite a leap of faith for me, as I pretty much gave up on MTV after its early quality reality shows (Season 3 of Real World with Pedro, anyone?) turned nasty and staged and scandalous. But according to a recent NPR story, I am not the only one thinking that this new show has some value and "reality". The Kaiser Foundation has funded reproduction of the series so that it can be distributed to schools, non-profits, and social service organizations that are working to reduce teen pregnancy.
The educators mentioned above believe that "Teen Mom" helps create and capitalize on a teachable moment. This is defined as "a moment of educational opportunity...a time at which a person, especially a child, is likely to be particularly disposed to learn something or particularly responsive to being taught or made aware of something". One reason to buy into this theory is based on the idea that modeling is important. People learn from watching each other. What high school students see other high school students doing is very important. Therefore, seeing the realistic struggles of the four girls on the show could help them think about potential consequences of teen pregnancy. We see the relationships with their family or the baby's father crumble. We see them working and paying bills in addition to waking up at all hours to a screaming baby. We hear about how one girl lost the father of her baby in a car accident before the child was born...now she is a single mom.
Of course anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I need to mention that this show is being used in schools as an educational piece. And of course an educational piece is not a silver bullet because it cannot address all the complex risk factors for teen pregnancy which include things like economic disadvantage and growing up with teen parents yourself. However, I think it is a step in the right direction. It is definitely an improvement in the quality of MTV reality shows. It also shows these girls in a pretty "real" light without being preachy or fear-based. Check it out and let me know what you think.