'Teen Mom' Shows May Have Cut Teen Pregnancy Rate

From the WebMD Archives

Two television series that follow teen girls through pregnancy, delivery and early motherhood may have prevented more than 20,000 births to American teens in 2010, according to a new study.

It concluded that "16 and Pregnant" and a spinoff called "Teen Mom" reduced the U.S. teen birth rate by nearly six percent, The New York Times reported. The study was to be released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The programs are among MTV's most-watched programs. Each episode of "16 and Pregnant" follows a different teen as she goes through pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks of motherhood, while "Teen Mom" continues the stories of the young mothers and their children.

By stressing the consequences of unprotected sex, educating teens about the difficulties of having a child, and prompting discussions about birth control and pregnancy, the shows seemed to have reduced the teenage birth rate, according to the study by Melissa Kearney, the director of the Hamilton Project, a research group in Washington, and Phillip Levine of Wellesley College.

"It's thrilling," Sarah Brown, the chief executive of the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told The Times. "People just don't understand how influential media is in the lives of young people."

Kathryn Edin, a poverty researcher at Harvard University, said the shows may help teens overcome "don't ask, don't tell" situations where they don't talk with each other about their expectations. This lack of communication can lead to unintended pregnancies.

"Families born by accident, rather than design, are bad for men, bad for women and really bad for kids," Edin told The Times.

But the shows have critics.

"Only 40 percent of teenage mothers ever graduate high school; two-thirds of families begun by an unmarried teen mother are poor," said a review of the program by the Media Research Center, a conservative organization. "So what does MTV do? It shows how cool teen pregnancy is with a new reality series."

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