Is 16 and Pregnant Educational or Exploiting Young Parents for Ratings?

I just received email correspondence from an agent who works with MTV and MTV's hit series "Teen Mom."  They wanted to know if I would like to interview any of the show's cast members for a blog post.

Along with the email was a copy of the press release.  It contains a quote made by Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:

"After 15 straight years of decline, the teen birth rate in the United States is on the rise again. In other words, the need to help young people understand the challenges of too-early pregnancy and parenthood and the profound, life-long responsibility of being a parent is now more important than ever. Thank you MTV for providing a no-holds-barred look at the realities of being a teen parent.”

This is hardly something I would thank MTV for. They're benefiting from the ratings and notoriety given to them by people who feel that this show does "good." If you want to thank anyone, thank the young women who are putting their lives on television to be made an example for everyone else.

So many ethical questions come into play with this show.  I would rather interview the producers of the show about their thought processes in filming a show like this instead of interviewing the cast members themselves.

"If the cast is not being paid, how is it ethical to stand by as a lucrative network, benefiting from ratings as a result of these young people's struggles, and let them struggle?"

"If the cast being paid, how is it ethical to tell young viewers that these financial struggles are a 'real' depiction of being a teen parent?"

"How much did a camera following around these young people intensify their struggles by putting them in the public eye, on countless forums, and on the cover of tabloids in every grocery store?  Do you really feel you allowed their babies to have a good start in life?"

"Catelynn and Tyler's lack of financial resources seemed to be the driving point behind their surrender of Carly.  If they had more resources, their decision-making opportunity could have been expanded.  How much did MTV step in to offer this young couple resources, or was the fact they were interested in adoption too paramount to the story line to warrant stepping in?  In this case, why should TV ratings and having one type of story come before the needs of parents and children?"

When I think of "16 and Pregnant," I cannot help but remember the demise of Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson's marriage.  I was a very young woman when the two famous singers married and invited cameras into their home after being invited to have their own "reality" TV show on MTV called "The Newlyweds."  They divorced a few seasons later, and the stress the show put on their marriage, the invasion of their privacy, was largely blamed for why the couple could not work things out. How can MTV ethically proceed then with "16 and Pregnant" and put cameras in a 16-year-old's delivery room to capture the most vulnerable moments of a young parent's life.  Are they setting these young parents up for anything better than Nick and Jessica had?

I'd like to remind Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the woman I quoted at the beginning of this entry, of a survey just recently performed and published by her own organization. According to their December 2009 survey of 1,800 young people ranging from ages 18-29, young people seem already more than well aware that parenting is "hard." The problem identified in the study was that although most young people feel that pregnancies should be planned, they do not fully understand how to prevent the pregnancies. The survey found that a majority of interviewees did not understand oral contraceptives and a staggering 30% did not understand condoms. Many held to old-wives-tales and completely false information. The survey calls for more and better sex education. Displaying hardships as a teen parent on national television is not sex education.  There is, in fact, absolutely no information on contraception and safe sex on the show whatsoever.

The bottom line of this show is clear: ratings at all costs, network priorities disguised as 'reality,' and a conveniently placed adoption story in the name of "providing education" about teen pregnancy.  What a bad idea.