MTV’s 16 and Pregnant–The First Episode

Sarah Seltzer

Although it's crucial not to stigmatize pregnant and parenting teens and offer them full support, this show may inappropriately glorify their difficult existence

Last night MTV premiered its new show, "16 and Pregnant." Watch the first episode here. While the show shines a fairly honest light on how hard it can be for teens trying to live an adult family life, my impression is that it tends to have the ‘Bristol Palin" effect: "don’t get pregnant–but if you do, you’ll get lots of media attention… Maybe even your own MTV show, (scored with hip indie music, with your own voice-over narration and tilted to put you in a sympathetic light.)" Although it’s crucially important not to stigmatize pregnant and parenting teens and offer them full support, I’m not sure whether this show doesn’t inappropriately glorify their difficult existence. It also hews to gender roles–the dutiful, self-sacrificing mom and absent teen dad. While this may also be quite true to these teens’ experience, again, depicting it like a sitcom skirts the line between honestly showing a situation and promoting it.

 

Here is a rundown of the first episode:

"This is not how I pictured my senior year" says Maci, an overachiever and dirt-bike fan who has moved in with her boyfriend Ryan after they get pregnant. The episode features a lot of awkward laughter surrounding the awkwardness of the situation, including an absurd argument between Maci and Ryan over whether the baby (a boy, whom they’ve named "Bentley") will ride dirt bikes or four-wheelers. Maci worries that Ryan is not interested in talking about baby stuff or tying the knot, and tells us that "his attitude sucks.""I know Ryan is dreading this baby, but would it kill him to be supportive?" she asks. Ryan, incidentally, is working the graveyard shift at his job to help support the new family.

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She also muses on the fact that her belly is a "big distraction" for other teens around her. And when one of her classmates asks her, obliquely if she considered "not going through with it" she says she decided to make the best of it and declares that although other options crossed her mind, there was never much of a choice for her.

She also indicates that there was so little time between she and Ryan started "doin’ the hokey pokey" and the moment she got pregnant that her mother didn’t have a chance to give her a proper sex talk.

The bulk of the episode (after Bentley Cadence’s birth) deals with Ryan’s difficulty adjusting to teen fatherhood–although he does get a tattoo to honor his son’s birth. Maci says sometimes she feels like she’s taking care of two babies. She tries to give him "cash incentives" to do his fair share.

Maci acknowledges that her days of cheerleading, dirt-bike racing and relaxing are over. She graduates high school, enrolls in college, and faces the frustration of balancing school and work. She can’t afford day care and has to rely on her mom to take care of Bentley. Meanwhile, Ryan is often nowhere to be found, or passing the work on to her.

But she is hesitant to confront him. Ryan’s father urges him to be more present in his son’s life but nothing changes, and Maci considers moving out while Ryan says he’s staying in the relationship just for his son.

The two teen parents have a final argument and acknowledge that if weren’t parents, they wouldn’t be in conflict–probably because they wouldn’t be together. Their outcome is left ambiguous. Next week will focus on another teen mom-to-be.

 

Has anyone else watched the show, and if so, what did you think?

 

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