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16 and Pregnant As Birth Control

January 15, 2014

According to a study outlined in a Yahoo News article, contrary to popular belief that MTV is exploiting pregnant teen girls, the popular television series based on pregnant teenagers, 16 and Pregnant, actually resulted in fewer teen pregnancies and more awareness of birth control:

“We find that 16 and Pregnant led to more searches and tweets regarding birth control and abortion, and ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its introduction,” write co-authors Melissa S. Kearney (University of Maryland) and Phillip B. Levine (Wellesley College) in their NBER paper, titled “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing.”  That 5.7 reduction, The New York Times explains, is around 20,000 possible births to teenage mothers in 2010.

That is something we weren’t expecting. Since the program’s start in 2009, MTV has come under a lot of flack for not only exploiting the girls on the show, but also glamorizing teen pregnancy.

Granted, these findings were based on Twitter posts, arguing that by using Google’s aggregating searches and Twitter posts, more searches were performed by teens investigating birth control, but it’s possible that these shows introduced a dialogue that has been missing from teen health classes.

 “You can have all the sex-ed you want,” Sarah S. Brown, the chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy told The Times. “But if you can say, ‘Could that happen to me?’ that brings a reality and a heightened connection that is very significant for teenagers.”

The New York Times even posted an article about the show’s influence, heavily informing the Yahoo article, in which it appears that in areas where the show was watched most frequently, teen pregnancy rates declined.

What the show’s advocates say happened (and the research seems to back up) is that teens were able to see the bigger picture of teen pregnancy, something that typical sex education doesn’t provide. It also openly addresses a taboo topic. It led to more teens being informed. “The measured impact on fertility was greatest for black teenagers, who tend to be more likely to have children than their white and Asian counterparts,” The Times explains.

The fact that The Times picked up the story must have given a boost of credibility to a show that has been rightfully criticized as exploiting teen girls at some of their most vulnerable moments. My own personal opinion is that while I find it instructive that the show has led to other teens avoiding pregnancy, what about the sacrificial teens on the MTV series?

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