So let me start by saying that I love the shows Teen Mom, Teen Mom 2 and the original 16 and Pregnant. I watch them online every week (since I don’t have cable). I know there is a flurry of criticism surrounding these shows. I know that some people say it promotes or glorifies teenage pregnancy. I disagree.
As a former teen mother, I think the show does a great job showing how varied the teen mom experience can be. Instead of showing only pampered wealthy teens who have all their needs met by parents or only the despondent, down-and-out impoverished, I feel the show does a good job of showing how very different teen pregnancy can be for each family, and how that experience can change over time.
Each season I feel that both ends of the economic spectrum are well represented. Maci’s family appears to have been supportive financially as well as emotionally, similar to Chelsea’s family in Teen Mom 2 while Catelynn and Tyler represent the opposite end of the financial (and emotionally supportive) help in Teen Mom, Kailyn fulfills that role in Teen Mom 2. I’m not entirely sure that was intentional, but I think it’s important.
I also think the show does a magnificent job showing how easy it is to get pregnant and how hard it is to live with those consequences. Even when a girl changes her priorities and aligns her life to motherhood, her entire life is changed completely and permanently.
The reality is, the show can be frivolous and infuriating. The girls can be selfish and make bad decisions, but I really think this is good too. Truthfully, teenagers do not always make the best decisions, and even those who take parenting seriously are still subject to the social world of being a teenager. There are still romances to navigate, parents to rebel against, hard lessons to learn and growing up to do.
While their teenage drama is typical of the age group, everything is amplified and magnified because there are children involved. The chatter online seems mostly to focus on what these girls are doing wrong, and I sympathize (trust me, there will be some of that here too) but I think that disregarding the importance of the show because of the creators’ willingness to show a realistic view of even the most uncomfortable decisions these people make is a mistake.
Right now, Teen Mom 2 is showing, so those are the girls I will discuss briefly.
Leah: Leah is one of my favorite girls to follow. She is a good mother to her twin girls, which is made even more impressive by the fact that one of her daughters has had some developmental delays that Leah has handled better than I imagine I could, even now as a 26-year-old married mother of 2.5.
While I respect her as a mother, I also like the fact that Leah is flawed. As silly as it may sound, I truly like it when the show dives into those moments when she slips from mom mode into teenager mode. I like this not because I like to watch people fall, but because I think this is the reality of life. People are flawed. Teenagers make terrible, impulsive decision which endanger their futures.
Leah got pregnant almost immediately after she began a rebound relationship with her now ex-husband Corey. Before their marriage, Leah cheated on Corey multiple times and it ultimately led to her divorce and the dismantling of the family life she had settled into so well.
The tragedy for Leah is that she flourished in married life. It wasn’t without struggles, but it was a good life for her and her girls. Now she is reaping the fruit of a life she’d sown before her marriage, and it’s sad to see. I can relate to this part of Leah. Looking at long-term consequences is a lesson that I wish I would have learned through the mistakes of others instead of having to learn the hard way.
Chelsea: Chelsea is the hardest person on the show for me to relate to. Her family has helped and supported her so much financially (which is not something my parents were able to do) that she just seems like a spoiled brat to me. Her dad paid for her to live on her own. She never wants for anything. She drives an expensive car, and her hair, tan and nails are always done. It’s a bizarre, foreign world to me.
Because of the pampered life she seems to lead, her segments of the show also annoy me the most. She has no real problems other than finding the energy to take her GED or the courage and wherewithall to break things off with her toxic boyfriend. One entire episode was devoted to her hardship in maintaining a part-time work schedule. My own prejudices come in here. When my first son was born I worked between 40 and 60 hours every week. I just want to tell her to stop whining.
Kailyn: Kailyn is a great mother. She is responsible with her son and hard-working. She makes mistakes in her relationships, but I can’t help but like her. Her life hasn’t been easy, but she doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it. Her pain over her mother crops up now and then on the show, but mostly Kailyn is just surviving the life of a teen mom-work, school, trying to maintain a civil relationship with her ex. She does so with grace (mostly) and a defined sense of what is right for her son.
Jenelle: Oh, Jenelle.
Jenelle is the girl that always makes the news. Between the arrests, the drugs, the screaming fights with her mom, signing over custody of her son, and being diagnosed with bi-polar disordered, Jenelle is every stereotype that every teen mom struggles against. I have no words for a girl who thinks that going to a Ke$ha concert and weed are more important than seeing her son. I have no words other than I hope to God she can wake up one day soon, before it’s too late for her son to forgive her.
So there it is-why I like Teen Mom. Judge me, judge the show, disagree but I don’t see this show as a guilty-pleasure. I think it’s an important slice of modern reality. I think that by seeing the struggle, more girls are reconsidering the precautions they take when sexually active. Moreover, I think that it gives present and former teen moms a place to look to-a sense of fellowship to know they weren’t so odd or so broken.
Briefly and frankly, I want to speak to those girls out there who say that watching the show makes them want to see if they can manage motherhood: You are incurably stupid and I feel sorry for the children you will attempt to raise. If you are looking to MTV shows as a bucket list of things to accomplish in your life, may God have mercy on your soul.