In the United States, almost one million teenage girls get pregnant every year. The US has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrialized world – almost double Canada’s rate. Since back in the 80s, TV shows such as “The Facts of Life”, “Degrassi Junior High”, and “Party of Five” have tackled the issue of teenage pregnancy. More recently, reality shows have tackled the subject. Could TV shows actually help prevent teenage pregnancy?
Could TV Shows Prevent Teenage Pregnancy?
You may have heard of or watched MTV’s controversial “16 and Pregnant” reality show. What did you think of the show? Perhaps you felt that it glorified teen pregnancy and teen parenting and were concerned for teens who may be watching. Surprisingly, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “16 and Pregnant” led to a 5.7% reduction in teen births in the US in the 18 months following its premiere on TV in 2009! This accounts for about a third of the overall decline in teen births in the US during those 18 months, say researchers Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine. A TV show may have prevented thousands of teens from getting pregnant!
This is good news! There are many negative effects of teenage pregnancy to both mother and child. Two-thirds of teenage mothers don’t finish high school and one third end up on welfare within the first year. Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to be premature and have disabilities. As they grow up, these children are 50% more likely to repeat a grade, less likely to perform well on school, and less likely to finish high school.
The cycle continues as daughters of teenage mothers are more likely to become teen moms. Sons of teenage mothers are more likely to be headed to prison.
Teenage pregnancy rates have been on the decline in the US since 1991. However, while Canada has seen a steady decline in teenage pregnancy rates since the 70s, in recent years rates have started creeping up, even jumping dramatically in some provinces. Clearly, more can be done to prevent teenage pregnancy across North America.
It seems reality shows like “16 and Pregnant” may be able to get this message across more effectively than TV sitcoms and dramas. Perhaps that is because these shows are so raw. Real people. Real circumstances. Real emotions. It turns out that being 16 and pregnant, in reality, is far from glamorous.
However, scripted TV shows may still have a part to play. A study in Brazil found that a storyline involving a teenage pregnancy on a very popular soap opera had positive effects. Watching the program increased viewers’ knowledge on pregnancy and made them more careful to prevent it. Of the women who watched the program, there was a whopping 50% increase in knowledge about various reproductive health issues, such as contraception, family planning, and teenage pregnancy.
What do you think about shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom”? Does this research change your opinion? Let us know in the comments below!