Could TV Shows Prevent Teenage Pregnancy?

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?

Photo Credit: Chaval Brasil

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!

11 thoughts on “Could TV Shows Prevent Teenage Pregnancy?”

  1. I was 18 when I had my first. 9 years and 2 more kids later still with the dad. I feel like the teen mom shows show the reality and lately none of it has been good. Its all about making the right choices and doing right to show your kids. I wouldn’t change anything about being a young mom. It either makes you or breaks you and luckily it made me into the woman I am today. I can honestly say I am proud of my self and my Kids!

  2. I think that if you try to have a supportive family life at home teens will be less likely to be teen moms. Theres nothing glamourous about pregnancy or after. LOL changing diapers losing sleep. Not fun!

  3. I really dont like any of those teen mom shows. A lot of the characters come off a whiners and little girls who play house but still want to go out and party. I do think it could scare some women straight, but some others jsut see teen mom and try to replicate it.

  4. I think it is a great idea. I watched teen mom to see what the hype was all about. They show real life teenagers and they show how hard it is for them. The show doesn’t sugar coat it and it is how things are in real life.

    Education is critical and teaching your children to keep themselves pure for their husband. Of course, I realize stuff happens but it should at least discourage them.

  5. I can see why shows such as 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom can reduce teen pregnancy when teenage girls see how it is a difficult struggle, but it can also glorify teen pregnancy in a way. Some girls may think that if they get pregnant they will be on their own reality show or if they create a “pregnancy pact” it will strengthen the bonds of their friends and relationships with their boyfriends. I think it’s just a matter of educating teenage girls, but unfortunately, education can only go so far, it is how these girls use their knowledge and take into account people’s experiences.

  6. I believe in the power of media, so I would definitely believe it’s possible for TV shows to be influential on teens.

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